December 1, 2007

State: Give truckers room

By Luis Carrasco

The Georgia Department of Public Safety wants drivers to think about space. Specifically, the amount of space they leave between their vehicles and a tractor trailer during interstate driving.

Earlier this year the department launched the TACT (Targeting Aggressive Cars and Trucks) program to reduce the number of crashes between passenger vehicles and tractor trailers. Officials said most fatal crashes involving a passenger vehicle and a tractor trailer are not caused by semi-trucks, but by drivers failing to give the larger vehicles the room they need.

“A lot of people want to believe the truck is at fault in the majority of the cases,” said Department of Public Safety spokesman Gordy Wright. “But we looked at the data, and in roughly two-thirds of the crashes between tractor trailers and passenger cars, the fault lies with the passenger vehicle.”

Wright said the TACT program combines educational efforts with enforcement in two traffic corridors of Georgia with a high number of fatal passenger vehicle-tractor trailer crashes. The program is currently in place in the corridor of I-75 from the South Marietta Parkway in Cobb County to Georgia Highway 140 in Bartow County and will expand in January to I-95 in East Georgia.

Although the Dalton area is currently not part of the enforcement phase of the program, Greg Whisenant, transportation safety manager for Shaw Industries, said educating passenger vehicle drivers is vital.

“(Semi-truck drivers’) driving ability should be better than the person in the four-wheeler, it should be better than ours, because they get more training than we ever get,” Whisenant said. “We feel it is important not only to educate the drivers but also the driving public on how to operate vehicles around our big trucks.”

Officials said the majority of accidents occur when vehicles tailgate a tractor trailer or cut in front, something Whisenant said he has seen firsthand.

“I’ve been a driver in the past. (Cars) just don’t understand, they always want to be in front of you, never behind you,” he said. “The biggest danger is them not understanding how (semi-trucks) operate: how far it takes them to stop, the blind spot directly behind them, how far they have to swing out when they make a turn.”

Wright said that although crash data is not ready yet, the Department of Public Safety is pleased with the results so far during the first wave of the program.

“It’s not just with the citations, (law enforcement) also issued a number of warnings to drivers to increase awareness that you need to leave more space before you cut back in on a truck, because they can’t stop as quickly as passenger cars,” Wright said.

Whisenant believes the program, along with continuing driving education in schools, is crucial for the continuing safety of Georgia drivers.

“The rate of commercial vehicles in the next few years is going to tremendously grow, and that means there are going to be more trucks out there,” he said. “You hope there aren’t going to be more accidents, but if we aren’t educating people how to drive around them than what are we looking for, what’s the future going to hold?”



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Safe on the road

• Don’t cut off semi-trucks. For safety, when moving in front of a tractor trailer, allowing at least one car length for every 10 mph of speed is recommended.

• Don’t tailgate. Semi-trucks have big blind spots behind them and drivers who tailgate can’t see traffic in front of them in other lanes.

• Don’t speed. Speeding is a leading contributor in collisions.

• Allow plenty of room. Be careful when entering a highway or merging with traffic.