Kentucky becomes second state to try truck ride-along program

| 4/12/2006

If you happen to be trucking down Interstate 65 in Kentucky on the right day, and at the right time, you might notice a suspicious lack of highway patrol cars on the road.

But don’t worry – they’re out there. They’re probably closer than you think. And if you volunteer, one of those patrol officers could be as close as the passenger seat of your truck.

Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement has begun a new pilot program, in which officers ride shotgun with truckers to monitor and ticket aggressive drivers. Using a radar gun and a radio, the in-cab officers are able to catch problem drivers without being spotted. The officers can then radio ahead to police cruisers, who make the final stop and issue citations.

Greg Howard, Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement commissioner, said the program is still in its early planning phases, and has only been tested on the roads once.

“We used one truck, one driver, 20 police units and an airplane, and we just set a speed gun and camera up in the truck,” Howard said. “What we were looking for, primarily, was issues associated with tailgating, following too closely, improper lane-changing, no turn signals, speeding and reckless driving, whether it be with commercial vehicle or passenger vehicle.”

If Kentucky’s program sounds vaguely familiar, you’re not mistaken. About a year ago, Land Line first reported on a similar program in Washington state. The program was initially referred to as Step Up and Ride, and later renamed with a catchier acronym – Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks, or TACT.

TACT is about to make some pretty big headlines. Duane DeBruyne, a spokesman for the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, said a federal evaluation of the program will be completed by June. However, he declined to comment on the possibility of the program taking off on a national level.

“We’re excited about its fresh thinking and innovated approach,” DeBruyne said. “We’re pleased with its emphasis on employing federal, state and local partnerships, and we’re hopeful that it will make a strong contribution to the entirety of our efforts to make roads safer for everyone.”

Although it doesn’t yet have a memorable name, Howard said Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement got the idea for their program from Washington. However, Howard said it took a volunteer effort from the trucking industry to really get it off the ground in his state.

“It was something we had chatted about some time before, about using a commercial vehicle,” Howard said. “Lexington Cartage Co. … volunteered a driver, truck and anything else we needed and we took them up on it.”

In a period of three hours, more than 100 tickets were issued to four-wheelers and truckers alike. And warnings? Well… there were none, actually.

“I just don’t really feel like warnings work,” Howard said. “After 30 years of law enforcement, I just think that if we’re going to put the effort into it, and we’re going to use other people’s vehicles and other people’s time, the only way (enforcement) on the highway works is to issue a citation, and that’s what we did.”

For a lot of truckers, Kentucky’s and Washington’s programs might seem like a dream come true. Although it hasn’t reached a national level yet, Howard seems to share that assessment – that working with truckers really can help improve highway safety.

“I think the trucking industry gets a bad rap from the public, for the most part,” Howard said. “It’s not always the truckers that are causing the problems. A big portion of the time, it’s the individual cars.”

Howard said the program is still welcoming volunteers who would like to donate their time or trucks to help with the program. To volunteer, call (502) 564-3276, and ask for Commissioner Greg Howard. West of I-75, you can also ask for Maj. Jeff Heady. East of I-75, ask for Maj. Phillip Frazier.

– By Aaron Ladage, staff writer