Steve Vaughn, vice president of field operations, PrePass Safety Alliance

Have you ever watched episodes of the old TV series “Highway Patrol”? The original broadcast ran from 1955-59, starred Broderick Crawford and his staccato delivery as the head of a western state highway patrol. The show featured fast cars and fast action. You can still find the series on one of those networks that carry “classic” TV shows.

“Highway Patrol” was originally intended as a public relations boost for the California Highway Patrol, but TV executives thought a more generic “western state” setting would give them dramatic license when it came to scripts. Indeed, while the CHP offered early technical assistance, the show veered away from CHP’s role of enforcing highway safety and catching criminals. Instead it featured shoot-‘em-up scenes, car chases and crashes. CHP discontinued its support.

When it came to on-road enforcement scenes, “Highway Patrol” often degenerated into the standard trope of a motorist complaining that the law isn’t “fair,” while the patrolman, handing out a ticket, intoned, “I don’t write the laws. I just enforce them.”

Here’s where highway patrol reality diverges from “Highway Patrol” Hollywood scripts. As a CHP patrolman, I did hand out tickets. But my colleagues and I also recognized, particularly when it came to commercial trucking, laws and regulations as written may not provide the best safety outcome in every situation. And so they may not seem “fair” to the honest trucker who wants a safe highway but whose operation is specialized or outside the norm.

Legislators and regulators usually try to craft fair and workable safety rules. Achieving “one-size-fits-all,” though, is not possible in the highly diverse world of trucking. At times it can require true safety specialists – motor carriers and commercial vehicle law enforcement – to work together on alternative solutions.

Fortunately, our respective industry trade associations welcome each other’s participation. I was fortunate to serve as president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA), representing commercial vehicle law enforcement agencies throughout North America. CVSA members included representatives from the American Trucking Associations (ATA), the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association, other trucking groups and individual motor carriers. Our shared goal was highway safety.

Here’s a great example of how it worked in practice. The federal regulations on cargo securement did not sync well with the tomato tubs used by California agricultural haulers. For years CHP issued seasonal permits to tomato haulers, allowing them to legally avoid the unworkable federal standards. Meanwhile, CHP, the California Trucking Association, the Agricultural and Food Transporters Conference of ATA, and the state food and agriculture department tested various means to secure those tubs and their loads. Our alternative safety solution was accepted by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. In 2019 the agency granted a five-year exemption from the general cargo securement rules. In working together, industry and enforcement found a solution promoting safety and the flow of freight on the highway.

At the end of each “Highway Patrol” episode, Broderick Crawford would directly address the TV audience and utter pithy sayings about highway safety:

  • “The laws of your community are enforced for your protection … obey them!”
  • “Leave your blood at the Red Cross, not on the highway!”
  • “The careless driver isn’t driving his car, he’s aiming it!”
  • “It isn’t the car that kills, it’s the driver!”

Those clichés may or may not resonate in today’s world. But if “Highway Patrol” were still airing, one thing would change – the tomato hauler would agree with the patrolman that the new cargo securement accommodation was “fair,” because they wrote it together.

Steve Vaughn is the vice president of field operations at PrePass Safety Alliance, the provider of the PrePass weigh station bypass service. Vaughn served nearly three decades with the California Highway Patrol and is a past president of the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance.

This blog was originally published on the IdeaXchange