By: Steve Vaughn, National Director of Field Operations, HELP Inc.
Every hour of every day, thousands of drivers are on the nation’s highways. This puts them in a great position to positively impact everyone’s safety in a number of ways. Not only can they assist law enforcement by serving as extra “eyes and ears” and reporting problems, drivers can influence the general public through education and safe driving best practices.
Commercial vehicle drivers are trained to keep their eyes on the road at all times, and so it will only be a matter of time before a driver spots another vehicle operating in a reckless manner. Usually this will mean excessive speeding, weaving in and out of traffic, aggressive tailgating, and similar behaviors. When a driver sees someone driving in an unsafe way, he or she should call 911 and get law enforcement involved. Of course, a driver should only make a report, and never get directly involved him or herself. Law enforcement officials will respond to the report, observe the suspected reckless driver and then take appropriate action, if necessary.
In addition to individual drivers taking action to assist law enforcement, there are several established programs designed to help keep the roads safe and address other safety issues. The First Observer Plus program from the Department of Homeland Security (previously known as the Highway Watch program under the American Trucking Associations) provides transportation professionals with the knowledge needed to recognize suspicious activity related to possible terrorism.
While not directly related to highway safety, Truckers Against Trafficking (TAT) exists to educate, equip, empower and mobilize members of the trucking and bus industries to combat human trafficking. Human trafficking has been reported in all 50 states, and the number of victims in the United States is estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Today almost 500,000 trucking industry members have registered as TAT trained. Between the inception of the National Human Trafficking Hotline on Dec. 7, 2007 and Dec. 31, 2017, there have been 1,980 calls to the hotline by people identifying themselves as truck drivers. These calls reported 557 cases of potential human trafficking involving 1,035 potential victims, with 319 of those being minors. Truckers are making a difference.
It’s also crucial to educate the general public to respect road safety and trucking. One program to do this starting early is Trucker Buddy International, a nonprofit dedicated to educating and mentoring school children via a pen pal relationship between background-checked professional truck drivers and children in grades K-8 as well as special needs classes, Girls and Boys Clubs and Scouting events.
Another way professional drivers can play a proactive role in safety is to volunteer their time at any safety day functions at local schools. Drivers can talk about topics such as safe stopping distance and turning radius issues as well as how to be aware of and avoid truck blind spots.
Operation Safe Driver’s Teens and Trucks program is an educational tool from the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance designed to educate young drivers. Through this program, students are educated about the different characteristics of a large truck or bus compared to a car, as well as the dangers of distracted driving.
By participating in these type of events, aligning with safety-focused organizations and being alert on the road for signs of distracted or reckless driving, professional drivers can make a big difference in highway safety.
One final, important point: drivers should always set a good example by using turn signals, keeping their lane positions, obeying posted speed limits and following the rules of the road. It might seem obvious, but never underestimate the impact that safe driving has on everyone on the road.