By Pam and Howard Hunt
OOIDA Member Colunmists
If you drive anywhere on Kansas highways, that truck next to you might be your average truck, or it might have a state trooper riding inside as a passenger.
The Kansas Highway Patrol implemented Trucks on Patrol for Safety – TOPS for short – earlier this year to help enforce laws while educating the motoring public about the dangers of driving too closely to large trucks. OOIDA member Gordon Alkire of Riley, KS, was one of the most recent to volunteer as a host driver for a five-day period.
Trucks that participate are temporarily equipped with a state-of-the-art, five-camera system used to watch for violations of both passenger vehicles and other large trucks from a variety of angles.
There are also four patrol units; two marked and two unmarked that work with the trucks. Once a violation is observed from inside a truck, the information is relayed to the other troopers who follow through by issuing warnings or citations.
Capt. Daniel D. Meyer, a spokesman for TOPS, said the program is a tremendous benefit to both the troopers and the truckers.
“We did not have any drivers leave the program that didn’t feel excited about having participated. It’s been very beneficial to all sides. The officers and the drivers both got quite a lot out of it,” Meyer said.
According to the TOPS section of the Highway Patrol Web site, the program was inspired by the premise that passenger vehicles contribute to the overall occurrence of collisions with large trucks. With the support of federal grants through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the TOPS program provides troopers an opportunity to ride with professional drivers to see what they see on a regular basis.
Meyer said the KHP is not the only agency to implement such a program, but is the only one to do it statewide. Law enforcement agencies in Kentucky and Washington have similar programs with different names, but those are only conducted along particularly dangerous “crash corridors.”
Gordon considered his five days in the program to be very much worth his time.
“I believe TOPS is the best way to get the message across to the motoring public,” Gordon said.
“It seems that everyone drives nearly perfect if they see a trooper or cruiser. But, to think a trooper is watching you from the cab of a semi is the furthest thing from their minds. They drive like they always do and it sometimes gets them into trouble.”
Gordon said all of those stopped were given a pamphlet explaining the TOPS program to them. And, some stops were simply a public service.
“We stopped at least two trucks and let them know that a side door was open and another truck had loose straps on his load of roofing,” Gordon said.
One pickup truck driver was running with a very low tire. Another car driver was reading as she passed the TOPS truck. After stopping her, it was learned she was elderly and lost. She was given help and directions and sent on her way with no ticket.
To gauge violations of tailgating, the trooper riding along with Gordon used a stop watch for acquiring speed stopping distance. The average speed stopping distance of many tailgaters was less than two seconds at 70 mph.
“At that speed, it would be impossible to safely stop. An accident waiting to happen,” said Gordon.
As of press time, the TOPS program had resulted in more than 400 speed citations and 180 moving violations for passenger vehicles, as well as 71 citations and 157 warnings to large-truck drivers.
“Safety is something that cannot be ignored. It affects us all,” adds Gordon. LL