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FHP Targets Bad Driving Of Trucks Complaints Prompt Crackdown On Violations

FDOT, Feb 05, 2004

The Florida Highway Patrol handed out 14,135 commercial vehicle citations in 2003 around the state. Troop B, which covers Hamilton, Columbia, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Gilchrist, Alachua, Levy and Marion counties, issued 559 last year.

Numerous complaints about large trucks on Florida's highways have spurred a statewide crackdown this week on traffic violations among truck drivers.

FYI: Facts about state crashes

Traffic crash statistics for 2002 from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles show:

Trucks, including those with two rear tires, four rear tires or tractor-trailer cabs, were involved in 77,261 crashes in the state. Cars were involved in 247,789 crashes.

Careless driving was the top contributing cause attributed to drivers in truck crashes. More specific citations also listed in many crashes were failure to yield right of way, improper lane change, improper turning, improper backing and following too closely.

Today, the Florida Highway Patrol launches a two-day program targeting dangerous driving among commercial vehicles.

"It was basically in response to an inordinate amount of motorist complaints," FHP Lt. Mike Burroughs said.

Among those complaints were allegations that truck drivers were following too closely, speeding, improperly changing lanes and using all lanes on the interstate.

 Florida restricts trucks with more than six tires to using only the middle and right lanes on certain interstates.

"A lot of motorists had been frightened by the large vehicles," Burroughs said.

Officers know of cases where motorists try to avoid roads heavily traveled by trucks, he said.

Burroughs said that occurs "among the more elderly drivers who the large tractor-trailers and trucks really seem to scare."

The operation is the second phase in the patrol's "Operation Safe Ride." Earlier this year, troopers focused on aggressive driving and road rage among motorists.

Officers in FHP's Troop B, which covers Hamilton, Columbia, Suwannee, Lafayette, Dixie, Gilchrist, Alachua, Levy and Marion counties, will be heavily involved in the program since some of the main traffic corridors in the state run through the area - Interstate 10 and Interstate 75.

The number of commercial vehicle citations issued in Florida by troopers has risen from 11,081 in 2001 to 14,135 last year. Troopers wrote 4,961 citations from January through March of this year.

In this area, troopers handed out 475 citations in 2001, 620 in 2002 and 559 in 2003.

Burroughs also noted recent accidents in the area involving truck drivers.

On Monday, a semi driver died in Hamilton County when one tractor-trailer hit another semi parked in the outside emergency lane on I-75, five miles north of Jasper. The accident shut down a stretch of the interstate for seven hours.

And last week, another truck driver died after he crashed into a tree off U.S. 301 in Hawthorne.

Careless driving was listed as the No. 1 contributing cause in truck accidents in 2002, the most recent data available from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. But Burroughs said that figure doesn't show a true picture since careless driving is considered a "catchall" citation.

Specific traffic violations ranked high in traffic crashes involving trucks were failure to yield right of way, improper lane change, improper backing, improper turns and following too closely. A recent change in federal law also may be part of the problem, some suggest.

Adjustments to the hours-of-service rules for truck drivers reduce the amount of time they can be on-duty and increase how long they must be off-duty, said Lt. Jeff Frost with the Department of Transportation Motor Carrier Compliance Office.

"What they were trying to do was to try and reduce the driver fatigue and try to prevent accidents," Frost said.

But some troopers are concerned the new rules may have caused some truck drivers to adopt a more aggressive driving pattern to finish their route in the allotted time.

Charles Brantley, president of the Florida Trucking Association, said that group's members have not experienced this kind of reaction from truck drivers.

"Nor would those safety managers tolerate that from their drivers," he said. Brantley did say that the size of a tractor-trailer can lead to complaints from other motorists.

"It appears many times that truckers are more to blame than anyone else because they are an incredibly large vehicle. The sheer appearance of that truck can frighten some people," he said.

Accidents involving trucks can be more dangerous because of their size. These catastrophic crashes also garner more attention. But Brantley said the group has no problem with the troopers' safety program now aimed at truckers.

"We would wish that all law enforcement would concentrate on aggressive drivers, be that a trucker or a private passenger vehicle," he said.

The amount of trucks on the nation's highways isn't expected to decrease, Brantley said. The amount of freight that must be moved in the country has been increasing annually at about 2.3 percent. "For that, enormous trucks will have a corresponding increase," he said.

That's why in addition to enforcing traffic violations among truckers, motorists also need to learn how to cope with them, Brantley said. Truckers, for example, have specific blind spots that other motorists should learn and avoid.

But the FHP program may have even more of an effect on truckers than similar safety operations aimed at other drivers because more points on a trucker's license impact their jobs, both Burroughs and Brantley said.

"It's a stronger incentive for them to really obey the law and not have a buildup of points on their license that would result in a suspension," Brantley said.

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