Officer ride-along program kicks off in Washington

| 7/1/2005

A new pilot program that begins in Washington state today will redefine the term “riding shotgun.”

Since July of 2003, Washington State Patrol officers have been riding along in the cabs of big trucks as part of a statewide pilot program known as “Step Up and Ride.” The program gives officers the opportunity to catch dangerous drivers in the act as they cut off or drive recklessly around big rigs.

Now, after two years of on-and-off operation, the fledgling project has made it to the big leagues. The state patrol has received a $500,000 grant from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and administrative support from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission and the Washington Trucking Association.

“NHTSA, which is also very big on trying to reduce fatalities in the states, said ‘You know, we need to be involved in this,’ ” said Capt. Coral Estes of the Washington State Patrol. “It’s a really unique partnership, because normally those two (NHTSA and FMCSA) don’t go hand-in-hand with what their goals and objectives are – they’re two separate entities. We needed to team up because it overlaps so much.”

The newly funded ride-alongs begin today and will continue through Oct. 3, at which point the program will be re-evaluated. If it’s ruled a success, Estes said officers could soon be doing ride-alongs in trucks across the country.

When a driver is on the clock with “Step Up and Ride,” his or her only cargo is an empty flatbed trailer and an officer serving as copilot. When a passenger vehicle makes an illegal or dangerous move, the officer – who’s also videotaping the entire thing – radios ahead to a “chase car,” which then makes the stop and issues a warning or citation.

“People are totally unaware of the situations they’re putting themselves in,” Estes said. “Why would you put yourself in these horrendous positions where you’ve got 80,000 pounds coming down on you at 60 miles an hour?”

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer