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Archive for Sunday, April 15, 2007

Road safety campaign puts highway patrol in big rigs

April 15, 2007

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— Before you swerve around that semi or tailgate a big rig, consider this: There might be a Kansas Highway Patrol trooper in the cab, ready to radio ahead with a report of your infraction.

Working with the trucking industry and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the patrol has begun putting troopers in the cabs of tractor-trailers specially equipped with cameras on the sides, front and back.

The goal is to catch dangerous driving on tape, ticket or warn offenders and draw attention to the perils of sharing the highway with big rigs.

"We get feedback from our drivers consistently that there are increasing numbers of excessive speed, road rage and reckless driving," said Maynard Skarka of Yellow Transportation, the trucking company that partnered with the patrol in the first week of a seven-week campaign.

Called Trucks on Patrol for Safety, the program will focus on a specific region of Kansas for one week at a time.

Yellow Transportation provided the professional driver and semi for the inaugural week, which took place in Wichita.

The onboard trooper, wielding a radar gun and monitoring the five camera images, radioed reports of speeding, tailgating and other apparent violations ahead to other officers, who flagged down the offending motorists. The cameras caught reckless maneuvers on tape.

According to the patrol, the first few days of the program resulted in 53 citations and 67 warnings to drivers of passenger vehicles, with five tickets and 35 warnings issued to drivers of commercial vehicles.

Lt. John Eichkorn, a Highway Patrol spokesman, said Kansas Department of Transportation Records for 2005 showed 3,902 crashes involving heavy trucks, including 68 fatality crashes in which 81 people were killed. Nearly 6 percent of all traffic accidents and 17.7 percent of all fatal crashes in Kansas that year involved large trucks.

Those numbers illustrate the danger on Kansas roads for semis and cars alike.

"In Kansas, they've had a bad record of people running into trucks, and so it's going to be very important to get the attention of those people causing the crashes," said John Hill, U.S. Department of Transportation administrator.

The program will be carried out elsewhere in Kansas for the next six weeks, then repeated later for another seven-week run.

The trucking industry is providing the vehicles and drivers free to the program.

"We believe that we get a return on the commitment that we make here because accidents are very expensive; (the problem) not only endangers lives, but costs a lot of money," Skarka said.

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