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Highway Safety Initiatives

Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT): Washington State’s Efforts to Reduce Collisions Involving Commercial Vehicles

By Steven D. Johnson, Lieutenant, Washington State Patrol

Posters were distributed by the Washington State
Patrol to locations frequented by drivers such as gas
stations and rest stops.

asic physics tells us that when a passenger vehicle is involved in a collision with a large truck—a vehicle used in commerce with a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 10,000 pounds—the likelihood of a death or injury to an occupant in the passenger vehicle is increased compared to other collisions.1 An analysis of the available data shows that the passenger vehicle driver is the cause in more than half of the large truck versus passenger vehicle fatality collisions, with the percentage ranging from 56 percent2 to 75 percent.3 One study points out that while large trucks comprised only 8 percent of all of the vehicles involved in fatality crashes in the United States, collisions involving large trucks resulted in 12 percent of the total number of lives lost.4

A second study identified the top five behaviors displayed by the collision-causing drivers of passenger vehicles when involved in fatality collisions with large trucks.

  • Running a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) off the road
  • Failing to yield right of way
  • Unsafe speed
  • Driver inattention
  • Failing to obey traffic devices5

The experience of the Washington State Patrol (WSP) has been consistent with those findings. The 26 fatality collisions involving large trucks in Washington State during 2010 resulted in 27 deaths. Eighteen (69 percent) of the collisions were caused by a passenger vehicle failing to yield, speeding, making improper U-turns, or crossing over the centerline or by driver inattention.6

In 2005, the WSP, in partnership with the Washington State Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC); the Washington Trucking Associations (WTA); and multiple county and local law enforcement agencies, initiated the Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) program. The same year, the Commercial Vehicle Division (CVD) of the WSP reported 49 CMV fatality collisions resulting in 55 deaths.7

The WSP TACT program recognizes the need to address these problems. To do so, it developed partnerships through the application of a community-oriented policing model, provided education to motorists, and implemented an enforcement emphasis plan.

Commercial motor vehicles were used to spread the TACT messages
through a partnership with representatives from the trucking industry.


Goal number 1 in the WSP strategic plan is to “Make Washington roadways and ferries safe for the efficient transit of people and goods.”8 One obvious way of reaching that goal is through the reduction of collisions. With that goal in mind, a trooper assigned to CVD initiated a Problem Oriented Public Safety (POPS) project in 2003. POPS is the WSP’s version of community policing. The Step Up and Reduce Injuries through Driver Education (RIDE) program puts troopers in semitrucks to videotape and observe the behaviors of other drivers. As troopers saw violations occur, they notified other troopers and officers staged in the area. Those troopers and officers then contacted the violator for enforcement. The Step Up and RIDE program was successful, but, more importantly, it helped define the problem and develop a more complete response. It became evident that drivers of passenger vehicles did not understand the consequences of their driving behaviors when sharing the road with large trucks. An additional benefit of the Step Up and RIDE program was the development of strong partnerships with a diverse group of stakeholders, including representatives from various state and local agencies and trucking industry representatives such as the WTA.

In 2004, the U.S. Congress directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to educate drivers of passenger vehicles on how to safely share the road with large trucks. Based on what was learned from Step Up and RIDE and other programs, Washington State was selected to develop and initiate a pilot project to further address collision-causing behavior associated with passenger vehicle drivers in relation to large trucks. The TACT program was Washington State’s response to “increase awareness by the driving public about dangerous driving behaviors around moving CMVs.”9

The TACT program was initiated in 2005, and, as part of the pilot project, the following goals were identified:10

  1. To test the effectiveness of high-visibility enforcement in reducing high-risk unsafe driving behaviors that contribute to CMV crashes.11
  2. To document unsafe driving behaviors around CMVs by both CMV and passenger vehicle drivers. The specific driving behavior targeted was cutting off large trucks. Other behaviors targeted were tailgating, speeding, and aggressive driving.12
  3. To measure public awareness of the combined campaign of enforcement, paid and earned media, and outreach.13
  4. To develop a model that is replicable in other states.14

The 2005 TACT project called for a collaborative approach involving both educational outreach and enforcement. A study to measure the program’s success was designed to include the identification of both test and control highway corridors with similar traffic patterns and characteristics, pre- and post-event surveys, and data collection and analysis.

Once the sites were selected, public feedback was used to develop a road sign that communicated both the necessity of a safe merging distance and the enforcement message. A Seattle advertising company was hired to produce and air radio advertisements. Because of its relationship with the local media, the advertising company was able to secure both peak airtime and additional free spots. Print ads were used along with a series of press releases and events involving both TV and newspapers. A series of posters, banners, flyers, and road signs were produced, distributed, and displayed. Additionally, large trucks wrapped in TACT banners traveled up and down the previously identified intervention corridors while conducting their daily business. The media emphasis ran prior to and during the increased enforcement efforts.15

Enforcement efforts included troopers riding in large trucks supplied by the local trucking industry (Step Up and RIDE) and the use of aircraft supplied by the WSP Aviation Section to observe driving behaviors. In both cases, the troopers recorded their observations and then communicated them to other troopers, county deputies, and local police officers either staged or patrolling in the area using marked and unmarked units and motorcycles. When trucks or aircraft were unavailable, the emphasis teams were successful in using just the different types of patrol vehicles in various combinations. In fact, developing partnerships with county and local law enforcement agencies not only acted as a force multiplier; it enhanced the effectiveness of the overall program. Local officers and county deputies were able to actively participate in the emphasis efforts without ever leaving their assigned patrol areas and without accruing overtime.

Partnerships with stakeholders presented several
opportunities to spread the TACT message.
The enforcement effort consisted of two phases lasting two weeks each and running Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The days and times selected for the emphasis patrols were based on collision data. A total of 4,737 contacts were made (approximately 237 per day). Of the violators contacted, 72 percent (3,410 people) were cited. While the enforcement was generally spread evenly across all days and times, 17 percent (805) of the contacts occurred during the morning rush hour (7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.).16

Once the project was completed, drivers were surveyed to see if there had been any change between pre- and post-event exposure to the traffic safety message. Researchers learned that there had been a significant increase in awareness and in self-reported compliance. Through rigorous evaluation, it was “confirmed that intensive selective traffic enforcement that is well-publicized can produce large gains in drivers’ knowledge, attitudes, and self-reported behaviors about driving around large trucks.” In addition, “An innovative road sign that combined a positive message to (‘Leave More Space’) with an enforcement warning (‘Don’t Get a Ticket’) was effective.”17

The TACT Program Today

The WSP TACT program has been active now for more than five years. The original TACT pilot program did not provide any data or information that supported using this tactic as a long-term approach to addressing the stated problem. Additionally, it focused on high traffic volume areas, leaving a question about its effectiveness in a rural setting. As a result, in 2009, a second grant was secured from FMCSA to evaluate the TACT program. This time, researchers were asked to evaluate the applicability of the TACT to a rural setting, as well as its effectiveness over time. The WSP commissioned the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center (SESRC), affiliated with the Washington State University, to provide that evaluation. In general, research conducted by the SESRC followed the 2005 study conducted by the WTSC and Dunlop Associates Inc. and expanded to include more rural road information. However, there were some differences that affect a direct comparison of the two studies.

As part of the 2009 study, five focus groups were conducted to (1) attain a better understanding of participants’ current knowledge of traffic emphasis programs; (2) evaluate the questionnaire; (3) obtain feedback on the TACT materials (sign, brochure, and poster); and (4) find out about experiences and attitudes regarding aggressive driving.18 A survey was also conducted to evaluate the long-term recall associated with the message conveyed in 2005. In 2009, motorists were asked if their driving behaviors around large trucks had changed for a longer period of time (three years) as opposed to two months in 2005. Another difference was that the road signs were in place for a longer period of time (approximately one year) in 2005, while in 2009, the signs were in place only for the duration of the two designated emphasis periods, approximately 10 weeks.19 A unique aspect of the 2009 study was an opportunity to survey a number of drivers who had received tickets or warnings as part of a TACT emphasis.

The 2009 evaluation confirms what was known based on both the 2005 study and anecdotally: The program works. As the 2009 TACT program evaluation findings state, “Each stage of the evaluation, from focus groups through the survey components and stages, consistently supports that TACT was effective in promoting the main messages, increasing driver awareness, changing knowledge, and changing of self-reported behavior.”20

Other findings from the 2009 evaluation confirm that drivers who were stopped by law enforcement had a higher level of awareness, and they now leave more space when passing or following large trucks and stay out of blind spots.21

Federal Support

Based on Washington State’s experience, the TACT program has been put into practice in other states including Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Texas.22 Currently, the FMCSA is both encouraging and supporting the expansion of TACT programs to more states. The FMCSA has identified a TACT project director and established a website to provide access to resources including a best practices clearinghouse.23 The website identifies multiple groups of stakeholders from around the country including law enforcement representatives, traffic safety organizations, and industry representatives. It also provides access to reference material such as guidelines for developing a program, presentations, and brochures. Agencies may qualify for federal funding under the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP). MCSAP funds are available through high-priority discretionary grant funding to state and local agencies to provide financial assistance in reducing the number and the severity of collisions involving large trucks. The FMCSA website identifies the TACT requirements associated with the MCSAP grant application process and reporting. Please visit for more information.


Multiple studies have been conducted identifying and considering different aspects and the scope of the problems associated with large truck collisions and the frequency of injury or death when a passenger vehicle is involved. Washington State has participated in several studies that clearly show the benefits in implementing a TACT program. In response to a recognized national problem and based on documented success, the federal government has developed and provided resources, including potential funding opportunities, to support the development and implementation of TACT programs.

A TACT program provides several advantages that are as applicable to small, local jurisdictions as they are to large, state jurisdictions. For example, implementing a TACT program results in an increase in teamwork among multiple stakeholders, along with a focused response to a specific problem. Through strategic deployment of resources and a coordinated emphasis effort, drivers can be left with a lasting impression that provides an opportunity to influence a larger population of drivers than can be impacted by only one officer or press release. In fact, “the beauty of this program is that it can be maintained and operated with existing resources and during regularly scheduled shifts.”24

Coupling aggressive, focused enforcement activities with education and community outreach components does have an impact on traffic safety. Agencies should not automatically dismiss implementing a TACT program because they are unable or unwilling to participate in comparison studies, collect additional data, or commit additional resources often required to qualify for a grant. Washington and other states have completed the data collection and analysis that demonstrate the program works and can be done successfully with available resources.

In Washington State, the TACT program contributed to a reduction in fatality collisions involving large trucks from 49 fatality collisions with 55 deaths in 2005 to 26 fatality collisions with 27 deaths in 2010.25 This represents a 53 percent reduction in fatality collisions involving large trucks and passenger vehicles but more importantly, it represents 28 families who were not devastated by the loss of a loved one. The outcome of the TACT program is lives saved. ■


1Li-Yen Chang and Fred Mannering, “Analysis of Injury Severity and Vehicle Occupancy in Truck- and Non-Truck-Involved Accidents,” Accident Analysis and Prevention 31, no. 5 (September 1999): 421–599.
2Report to Congress on the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (Springfield, Va.: U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, March 2006), 16, (accessed July 29, 2011).
3National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Overview,” Traffic Safety Facts: 2009 Data, DOT HS 811392, (accessed July 29, 2011).
4National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “Large Trucks,” Traffic Safety Facts: 2005 Data, DOT HS 810 619, (accessed August 1, 2011).
5Jack Stuster, Unsafe Driving Acts of Motorists in the Vicinity of Large Trucks (Santa Barbara, Calif.: Anacapa Sciences, February 1999), 1 (accessed July 29, 2011).
6Washington State Patrol Commercial Vehicle Division, “Commercial Motor Vehicle Collision Database” (unpublished business records, April 2011).
8Washington State Patrol, 2008–2013 Strategic Plan (Olympia, Wash.: Washington State Patrol, June 2008), 4, (accessed July 29, 2011).
9Penny Nerup et al., “Technical Summary,” Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) in Washington State: High Visibility Enforcement Applied to Share the Road Safely (Washington Traffic Safety Commission and Dunlap Associates Inc., March 2006), (accessed July 29, 2011).
11Nerup et al., “Introduction,” Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) in Washington State: High Visibility Enforcement Applied to Share the Road Safely (Washington Traffic Safety Commission and Dunlap Associates Inc., March 2006), (accessed July 29, 2011).
12Nerup et al., “Technical Summary.”
18Danna L. Moore and Kent Miller, “Safety of Rural Routes: Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks” (unpublished research, June 2010).
22“TACT States,” U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, (accessed July 29, 2011).
23Gladys M. Cole, “TACT State Peer Exchange Network Working to Save Lives,” Guardian 15, no. 2 (second quarter 2008): 11, (accessed August 1, 2011).
24Captain Darrin T. Grondel, Commercial Vehicle Division Commander, Washington State Patrol, discussion with author, April 2011.
25Information from the Washington State Patrol Commercial Vehicle Division.

Please cite as:

Steven D. Johnson, "Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT): Washington State’s Efforts to Reduce Collisions Involving Commercial Vehicles, Highway Safety Initiatives The Police Chief 78 (September 2011): 80–82.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 9, September 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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