The Kansas Highway Patrol’s Trucks on Patrol for Safety, or TOPS, program is rolling across the state’s highways for the sixth year in a row. This program provides state troopers an opportunity to ride with professional truck drivers, giving enforcement personnel a front seat view to witness, document and ticket motorists who cut off trucks or otherwise drive unsafely around big rigs.
The TOPS program is funded by a grant through the FMCSA’s Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) Program which was launched in the fall of 2004. The program is designed to educate motorists about the dangers of unsafe driving behaviors committed by cars around trucks.
The (TACT) program uses three key components — communications, enforcement, and evaluation — to build awareness and educate passenger and commercial motor vehicle drivers about safe driving behaviors around one another.
“TACT uses a combination of high-visibility messaging coupled with targeted enforcement activities in selected high-risk traffic areas to reduce fatalities and injuries from unsafe driving behaviors by cars and trucks such as cutting off, tailgating, and speeding,” according to FMCSA.
The Kansas program is using trucks, trailers and drivers donated by Kansas Motor Carriers Assn. member companies. State troopers ride along in the truck cab to watch for four-wheelers cutting off, tailgating or performing other unsafe maneuvers around big rigs on the highway. The troopers inside the truck will contact nearby patrolling state troopers who then swoop in and pull over the offending driver.
States participating in the TACT programs have regularly reported pulling over and ticketing 100 or more car drivers for unsafe driving around big rigs within a four-hour observation period.
TACT programs are sometimes also used as a communication tool by inviting a news reporter to ride along in the observation rig with law enforcement for a first-hand look at unsafe driving practices around trucks and then reporting findings to the public.
A report about the current Kansas TOPS program by KSAL News Radio reminded motorists of the following safety tips when travelling around large trucks:
Stay out of trucks’ blind spots-areas directly behind, and on both sides of the truck where the driver cannot see cars. If you can’t see the driver’s side view mirrors, you’re in a blind spot and the driver can’t see you. If your car is beside a large truck, either drive on past or back off. If passing, drive your car on the left side where the blind spot is smaller.
Never follow a large truck too closely. Stay behind large trucks by at least one car length for every 10 miles per hour of speed. Providing extra distance allows you to see in front of the truck. If there is congested traffic or a crash ahead of you, you will see it in time to stop or safely steer your car away from the danger.
Use extra caution when passing a large truck. After you pass a large truck, do not pull your car back into its traffic lane until you see its headlights in your rearview mirror. Leaving this extra distance gives the truck driver time to slow down or stop if something is happening on the highway ahead.
Always remember that a loaded tractor-trailer or semi truck needs as much as 100 yards — the length of a football field – to come to a complete stop. No matter how crowded the highway, make sure to maintain this safe distance. If the truck driver ignores this margin of safety and follows your car too closely, do not take a chance. Move your car into another traffic lane.
Always use your turn signal when changing lanes. Drivers around you need to know what you are doing so they can maintain a safe driving distance.
Always use seatbelts and child safety seats when appropriate. This is your best defense against injury and death should you become involved in a motor vehicle crash.