Nearly 300 motorists across the state of Indiana have been the latest recipients of traffic tickets and warnings after unknowingly sharing the road with a group of tractor-trailers driving down the interstate with state troopers onboard.
The ‘trooper in a truck’ initiative was an effort to allow state troopers to more easily and inconspicuously watch out for dangerous driver behaviors on Indiana roadways. When the passenger-seated trooper in one of these big rigs saw any risky roadway actions, he or she was able to radio in to state police who were positioned to patrol further up the interstate and were ready to pull over these drivers and issue the necessary citations or warnings.
“One of the things we hear from truck drivers is, ‘It’s a shame you guys can’t see what’s going on the way we can,” said commander of the Indiana State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, Major Jon Smithers. “‘If only you guys could see what we see in the seat every day being up high.’”
And he’s not wrong–during the one-day ‘trooper in a truck’ event, the majority of the nearly 300 tickets and warnings that were issue were indeed issued to drivers of passenger vehicles, something that does not come as a surprise to many truckers who get a front row seat to the goings on of the nation’s roadways. During the initiative, troopers issued 152 warnings and wrote 132 tickets to passenger vehicle drivers.
Having these officers sit high up in the truck bed gave them a new perspective and allowed them to much more easily see if drivers were violating a particularly important recently-instated state law–that no driver should have a cellphone in his or her hands while operating a vehicle.
Violating this law can issue up to a $500 fine for drivers and also levy four points on his or her driver’s record. During the ‘trooper in a truck’ event, many troopers had to remind motorists of this “hands-free” law that has only been officially in effect in the state of Indiana for a short time.
“We need to let these people know that we’re serious about this [new law], because everybody’s still on their phones–nobody is taking it [seriously],” explained president of the Indiana Motor Truck Association, Gary Langston. “We also focused on people driving erratically and unsafely around commercial vehicles, things like tailgating, cutting people off, and all the other things that cars do.”
The Indiana Motor Truck Association was able to help state police with these efforts by recruiting the four big rigs utilized to travel along looping interstates throughout various regions of the state to help troopers with their patrol efforts.
“We think [the initiative] was successful,” explained Langston. “It continues to improve the relationship between law enforcement and the trucking industry. But first and foremost, it raises awareness and the priority level of safe driving. It reminds people that safe driving is a full-time job.”
Additionally, because the “hands-free” law is so new to so many, many drivers of passenger vehicles are not yet aware of the actual life-threatening risks that come with texting or otherwise using a cellphone while operating a car, Smithers noted.
“I don’t think people realize you can travel two or three lengths of a football field in just a few seconds,” he said. “If something is going on in front of you, in just a short matter of time you can be on top of a problem.”
Still, a large chunk of the citations issued by troopers during this event was for speeding, even though the main focus was to take action upon the drivers talking on cellphones or texting while operating vehicles on the interstate.
“I heard one story that a truck with a trooper was moving in the right-hand lane,” Langston recalled. “A car passed them on the right shoulder of the road, and then pulled in front of the truck.”
Langston explained that this driver had been so distracted, he didn’t even realize that he had cut off a commercial motor vehicle at all.
“When [the police officer] pulled the car over and asked the driver why he passed on the shoulder, his response was: ‘What truck?’ That just tells you that people aren’t paying as much attention as we’d like for them to.”