Broward Drivers: Big rig is state troopers’ latest safety tool

ARTICLE WRITTEN BY: Erika Pesantes ORIGINAL SOURCE: http://bit.ly/1wZ5Bda

GetContent.aspPOMPANO BEACH — There’s nothing stealthy about the Florida Highway Patrol’s newest tactic to help keep highways safer. It involves a new vehicle in its fleet that’s 53 feet long with 18 wheels.

The agency Tuesday unveiled a tractor-trailer being used for the first time during a safety campaign focused on educating motorists about the dangers of aggressive driving around large trucks on the road.

“The aim: to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities,” FHP Sgt. Christopher Galante told reporters at the Pompano Beach service plaza off Florida’s Turnpike.

In South Florida last year, there were 33 fatalities involving commercial vehicles — eight in Broward, 10 in Palm Beach and 15 in Miami-Dade, the agency said. Nearly 13,000 crashes involving big rigs happened in South Florida in 2013.

“Those numbers are pretty staggering,” Galante said. This year’s statistics have not yet been compiled, officials said.

Drivers won’t have difficulty spotting the agency’s new black and yellow big rig. It is emblazoned with the FHP seal and huge letters reading Florida Highway Patrol and State Trooper on both sides of the trailer. Authorities say the obvious law enforcement markings won’t necessarily deter bad drivers from committing infractions.

“Believe it or not, people will pass this truck, although it is marked as one of our units,” Galante said. “It is amazing what people do around [tractor-trailers].”

Added Sgt. Mark Wysocky: “We see it on the roadway. People pass us, they pass us in the SUVs, in the marked cars. I don’t think it’s going to make a difference.”

Violations they look out for include speeding, tailgating, texting and cellphone use, following too closely and other infractions around the tractor-trailer. The statewide Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks, or TACT safety campaign, continues through Thursday and will operate with the FHP big rig.

Motorists should expect to see the FHP tractor-trailer on all highways in Broward, authorities said.

How it works: it isn’t the trooper in the tractor-trailer who makes the traffic stops. Instead, he or she acts as the “spotter” or lookout, Wysocky said, and alerts colleagues in traditional FHP vehicles a mile or two ahead who pull the violating drivers over.

The law enforcement truck used in the operation was formerly a Florida Department of Transportation vehicle; its trailer was a refrigerated unit that was seized from a company that failed to pay fines, Wysocky said.

Although the tractor-trailer was being used during the safe driving campaign, the agency gears up the enforcement effort about four times a year to help reduce crashes involving commercial trucks and other vehicles.

The highway patrol notes that, because of our large population, trade centers and ports, South Florida has more crashes involving commercial vehicles than any other part of the state. epesantes@tribpub.com   or 954-356-4543 or Twitter @epesantes