Troopers turn to trucks to catch speeders, unsafe drivers

By Linsen Li • • July 24, 2009

As rain tapped at the semi's passenger window, Indiana State Police Master Trooper Kevin Fisher aimed his radar gun from an overpass at vehicles traveling on Interstate 65.

“He's going 75. It's a white SUV in the third lane, going under right now,” Fisher called out on the radio.
At the nearby entrance ramp, a police cruiser gunned its engine to pursue the vehicle traveling 20 mph above the posted 55-mph speed limit.
The scene was part of a new state police program to curb dangerous driving by and around commercial trucks. The program has a trooper ride in a commercial truck with the trucker at the wheel and observe violations. The trooper then calls police units along the route to stop and ticket the offending drivers.
Wednesday's operation set up by the Sellersburg state police post included one volunteer truck and nine police cruisers. Despite the rain, officers issued 36 citations and 15 warnings in just over an hour.
“Imagine if it's sunny right now,” Fisher said. “I can't believe how fast these cars are going in this weather.”
Paula Willis, the driver of the truck used Wednesday, said she volunteered because she wants to see a safer driving environment.
“I have seen reckless driving every single day I am on the road,” said Willis, a 15-year veteran of commercial truck driving.
All the trucks in the Indiana program are arranged through the Indiana Motor Truck Association at no cost, said Tisha Eder, the association's executive vice president.
“We want what the police want: safer roads. We want to prevent accidents and save lives,” she said.
The program is funded under the federal Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks program, or TACT, which aims to reduce commercial truck-related crashes, fatalities and injuries.
Kentucky also takes part in TACT and operates a ride-along program, said David Leddy, that state's TACT program coordinator.
Since joining the program in 2007, Kentucky has seen marked improvements in commercial truck safety, Leddy said.
In the program's first year, the state saw an 11.83 percent reduction in crashes involving commercial vehicles from the year before. Crash fatalities involving commercial vehicles dropped from four to zero and injuries decreased from 35 to 23 over the same period, Leddy said.
Using trucks gives police the advantage of stealth, said Sgt. Tyler Utterback of the Indiana State Police commercial vehicle enforcement unit.
“The fact is you are observing someone's driving behavior who absolutely has no idea that he's being observed by the state police,” he said.
The eventual goal is to have drivers observe the rules regardless of whether police are around, Utterback said. But achieving that goal requires education, enforcement and plenty of time, he said.
While the Kentucky ride-along program takes place only during blitz periods, Leddy said, it nevertheless remains effective. It “creates the idea that we could be out there at all times,” he said.
“Watch your speed. You never know who's watching,” Fisher said.
Reporter Linsen Li can be reached at (502) 582-4608.