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Program aims to reduce crashes with big trucks
Bruce McElreath prepares to pull out of the parking lot near the Publix in Oakwood. The Georgia Targeting Aggressive Cars and Truck program, going on now in Hall and Gwinnett counties, aims to cut down on risky driving around commercial vehicles and by commercial drivers. - photo by Tom Reed

 They’re giants on the road.

Weighing up to 80,000 pounds and towering more than 13 feet off the ground, commercial tractor-trailers come with a unique set of safety concerns, something local and state law enforcement officials want other drivers to recognize.

“What we’re trying to do, and what our goal is, is to reduce the number of crashes, fatalities and injuries that occur when large commercial vehicles and light-weight vehicles collide,” said Don Lively, coordinator for the Georgia Targeting Aggressive Cars & Trucks program, which began Monday.

Law enforcement officers will patrol Interstates 85 and 985 in Hall and Gwinnett counties to look for aggressive driving, such as speeding, improper lane changes, reckless driving, failure to signal and tailgating, in both cars and trucks, Lively said.

He said 1,160 crashes involving commercial motor vehicles and light-weight vehicles occurred between 2007 and 2009 in Gwinnett and Hall. These crashes resulted in nearly 800 injuries and 25 fatalities.

For Bruce McElreath, a truck driver for Publix, one of the biggest concerns is making sure to leave enough space around the truck when passing. If the car is too close, and the truck needs to stop, there could be an accident.

McElreath said it takes 360 feet — about the length of a football field including the end zones — for his truck to stop, and he sees cars fail to leave enough space on a daily basis.

“You get used to it,” he said. “You get out here and you anticipate it, you start looking for it. ... Once (truck drivers) get more experience, they know to look for people who are going to cut them off.”

McElreath said drivers tend to get distracted, lose track of time and come close to missing their exits. Then, they swerve across traffic and cut too closely in front of truck drivers.

“A lot of it’s getting distracted with everyday life, just trying to go to the grocery store, taking the kids to some kind of practice,” McElreath said. “It seems like people are thinking about everything they have to do except what they should be thinking about, which is driving the vehicle.”

He said drivers also should be aware of a truck’s blind spots or “no zones.” There are four, located at the front, rear, left and right sides of the vehicle.

“When you get beside a tractor-trailer, just get on past it as fast as you can,” McElreath said. “Don’t hang out in those no zones. The biggest danger area around a tractor trailer is right beside it, right in the middle of it.”

McElreath’s truck has a special mirror to help him see cars right beside the driver’s door, but he said the device isn’t on all vehicles.
He also cautioned against following trucks too closely.

“If I have to stop and react to something that happens in front of me, and you’re too close, you don’t have anywhere to go,” he said. “You hit the back of the tractor-trailer.”

Law enforcement officials also will look for truck drivers in violation, as the aggressive driving works both ways.

“Just like in any industry, you have some guys that are a little aggressive,” McElreath said. “They’re in a hurry to meet that deadline.”

But with a little awareness, drivers can make sure the roads are safe for everyone.

“We just need common courtesy out here on the road,” Lively said. “Just like we need it in all areas of our lives.”

This week’s program is the first of six five-day campaigns running every other week through October. Participating law enforcement agencies include the Hall County Sheriff’s Office, Gainesville Police, Gwinnett County Police, Georgia State Patrol and the Department of Public Safety Motor Carrier Compliance Division.