A little extra room wouldn’t kill you. That’s the message of an education and enforcement campaign launched in Gwinnett County this week to reduce collisions between passenger vehicles and commercial trucks by urging them to “leave more space” between them.
As part of the Georgia Department of Public Safety’s “Targeting Aggressive Cars and Trucks” program (TACT), some 35 officers will be stationed this week along the roughly 30-mile stretch of I-85 from Sugarloaf Parkway into Jackson County and up I-985 to Ga. 20. Four signs have been mounted throughout the corridor with illustrations that indicate a safe distance for lane switching and warn to drivers to avoid a ticket.
Crashes between passenger and commercial vehicles account for 15 percent of highway deaths each year, said Gordy Wright, the public safety department’s director of public information. Almost 90 percent of those killed are in the passenger cars, he said. And most of the time, it’s their fault.
Although the campaign’s signage appears to target drivers of passenger cars, officials say both parties are being addressed in an effort that will ticket drivers for aggressive behavior such as changing lanes without signaling, speeding and tailgating, said Maj. Christopher Long with the Georgia Motor Carrier Compliance Division. As part of the campaign, officers will hand out brochures about the program to those drivers they stop. Officers are also dispensing information at the welcome center in Suwanee.
When following a commercial truck, drivers of passenger cars need to leave more space than the requisite one car length for every 10 miles per hour, Long said. He pointed out the trucks’ significant blind spots and the fact that it takes twice as long for a tractor-trailer to stop as it does a passenger car.
The current area under watch saw 140 crashes between passenger and commercial vehicles last year. They resulted in five deaths and 89 injuries, Wright said.
Georgia’s Public Safety Department conducted two previous waves of enforcement — in Bartow and Cobb counties in November 2007 and in Chatham County in February. They were weeklong periods followed by two three-day checks. The follow-up enforcements for Gwinnett are scheduled for August and September.
According to a report prepared by James Bason, associate research scientist with the University of Georgia’s Survey Research Center, studies of the previous corridors before and after the enforcement “wave” took place suggested lower instances of unsafe driving around semi-trailers and increased awareness of the campaign.
Wright, of the Department of Public Safety, said that it’s too early to draw conclusions from the campaign, but already public awareness has increased.
“People are paying attention and realizing that they’ve got to use extra care around the commercial vehicles,” he said. “That’s what the campaign is about is increasing awareness to let drivers know that those trucks can’t stop on a dime.”
The program is funded with a grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and enforced by members of the Georgia State Patrol and the Motor Carrier Compliance Division. Washington, Kentucky, North Carolina and Pennsylvania have begun similar programs, Long said.
Story by Rachel Pomerance
Atlanta Journal Constitution, http://www.AJC.com