“You’ve probably heard that trucks and truck drivers are the most dangerous things on the road,” said the commanding officer. Some in our class of new highway patrol recruits nodded. The nodding stopped short when the CO continued, with emphasis, “Not true.” The laws and regulations we enforce against trucking operations certainly outnumber the similar edicts aimed specifically at motorists. Trucks are large, mechanically complex, and often intimidating to others. Truck drivers, and their employers, are trying to earn a buck on the road. Therefore, many thought that truckers would at times bend the rules to do just that.
Our CO acknowledged the accepted line of thinking and expected us to enforce the rules as written. He then added, the single most dangerous thing on the road, by whoever was behind the wheel, is “unsafe behavior.” My colleagues and I handed out a lot of tickets for violation of “the rules as written.” Those citations hopefully fulfilled the greater purpose of stopping or preventing unsafe behavior by truck drivers and motorists alike. We also witnessed firsthand that truck drivers are actually among the best companions law enforcement could have on the road:
- Like law enforcement officers, truck drivers keep driving when weather and road conditions become less than ideal and when natural disasters and emergencies require immediate response. Truck drivers know their loads provide commodities and services to those in urgent need. Emergency situations such as hurricanes and fires bring out the best in the bravest of people, and truck drivers are certainly no exception.
- Truck drivers often are good Samaritans. Despite hours-of-service limitations, truck drivers still volunteer to help along the roadside, aiding stranded motorists and assisting law enforcement. We’ve all seen video of dramatic rescues, the truck driver pulling people from cars in flames. A far more common and unreported occurrence happens when truck drivers arrive at a scene equipped with a fire extinguisher and trained to use it, preventing the worst of situations.
- Law enforcement officers themselves have received truck driver aid in times of need. Truck drivers fiercely dedicate themselves and strive to do things the right way, even though they work in a high-pressure environment. More than once, we heard truck drivers say things like, “We’re all in this together,” as they render assistance. That assistance flows to the least fortunate in our society. Truckers Against Trafficking, for example, works to expose and eliminate human slavery and prostitution.
- The best thing truck drivers do for law enforcement on a daily basis is report dangerous drivers. Truck drivers care about safety; after all, they are exposing themselves to the unsafe behavior of others. That is why many truck drivers share their expertise with younger and less experienced drivers and volunteer as trainers. Whenever we in law enforcement could intervene before dangerous driving became an unthinkable catastrophe, we often had a truck driver to thank for the heads-up.
Preliminary statistics from the National Highway Safety Administration show that fatal crashes in 2020 increased 7.2% over 2019, even though overall traffic decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But fatal crashes for heavy-duty trucks fell by 2% last year. And that comparison is one of the best things I’ve learned about truck drivers. Steve Vaughn is vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of PrePass weigh station bypass and toll payment/management services. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.