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Highway Safety Initiatives

Saving Lives by Citing Truck and Bus Violations

By Stephen A. Keppler, Executive Director, Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, Greenbelt, Maryland

s law enforcement professionals, at times we feel weighted down by the ongoing challenges we face in the performance of our jobs under the increasing pressures and scrutiny that come along with them. However, we have one of the most, if not the most, important jobs: keeping our fellow citizens safe. Traffic safety activities often do not garner their fair share of attention or resources, even though they focus on the leading cause of death for those between 8 years old and 34 years old.1 In 2009, of the 33,808 traffic fatalities in the United States alone, 14,446 (43 percent) of them were people age 34 or younger.2

Worldwide, road traffic injuries continue to be the leading cause of death among people 15 to 44 years old, and a total of 1.3 million people die annually as a result of traffic crashes.3 In particular, young and inexperienced drivers are overrepresented in these statistics. The United Nations Road Safety Collaboration recently launched its Decade of Action for Road Safety 2011–2020 to help curb this epidemic. This initiative has its own website, which can be reached at Clearly, traffic safety is of paramount importance in the quality of life for all citizens.

One aspect of traffic safety programs that often goes unnoticed is large truck—that is, a truck with a gross vehicle weight rating greater than 10,000 pounds—and bus safety. Large trucks make up 4 percent of all registered vehicles in the United States but represent 7 percent of all vehicle miles traveled (VMT)4 and are involved in 10 percent of all fatalities.5 In addition, of the large truck-related fatalities within the United States in 2009, 75 percent were occupants of other vehicles, 15 percent were large truck occupants, and 10 percent were nonoccupants.6 The Large Truck Crash Causation Study conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA); and 17 states provided an interesting fact in its 2006 report that was submitted to Congress: 73 percent of large truck-related fatal crashes involved multivehicles.7 This study also concluded that driver behavioral issues were the critical factor in 88 percent of two-vehicle crashes.8 These statistics are important for several key reasons:

  1. Trucks and buses are overrepresented in the fatal picture in comparison to their numbers and VMT.
  2. When they crash, it is often not the truck or bus driver that is killed; it is the driver of the other vehicle.
  3. Driver behavior and performance are key factors.

The Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP), which is authorized by Congress and administered at the federal level by FMCSA, provides the framework for enforcement and educational activities related to large truck and bus safety. The MCSAP provides necessary and critical resources to support some 12,000 state and local commercial vehicle law enforcement officers who oversee this large group of drivers, vehicles, and their employers. However, this is less than 1.5 percent of the approximately 800,000 police officers across the country and is not enough manpower to support this vital mission.

Truck and bus safety enforcement is a specialized discipline in the traffic safety arena. The truck and bus industries are highly regulated and diverse, and the program and oversight components are complex. However, when it comes to driver behavior, a truck or a bus is nothing more than a “big car.” The top 5 most often cited large truck and bus driver performance violations are

  1. speeding,
  2. failing to use a seat belt,
  3. failing to obey a traffic control device,
  4. following too closely, and
  5. improper lane change.9

Do these violations sound familiar? Many of these violations, if enforced, can result in drivers’ license suspensions. The enforcement of these traffic laws does not require any additional specialized training; any police officer can enforce them.

As we approach the planning of our daily activities, it is important to note that if we want to continue to drive down the deaths on our roadways, all of law enforcement needs to raise the level of awareness within their agencies to focus more attention on the performance and behaviors of those driving large trucks and buses. While there are some differing elements that need to be considered with these types of vehicles (for example, when initiating a traffic stop on a commercial vehicle, the officer must make sure there is a sufficient safe place to pull the vehicle over, and whether a left-side or right-side approach is most appropriate), with proper planning and execution, officers should not be deterred from taking general traffic enforcement action when warranted. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance encourages you to seek out the commercial vehicle enforcement units within your area, as they can provide valuable training and insight regarding these large vehicles. This hopefully will help to encourage your officers in further understanding the minimal differences from a traffic safety perspective when stopping a “big car.” We can significantly reduce the number of crashes, deaths and injuries involving “big cars” with the assistance of the more than 800,000 law enforcement professionals who enforce our traffic safety laws on a daily basis. ■


1Rajesh Subramanian, “Motor Vehicle Traffic Crashes as a Leading Cause of Death in the United States, 2007,” National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), Traffic Safety Facts: Research Note, DOT HS 811 443 (March 2011), (accessed September 29, 2011).
2NHTSA, “Table 55: Persons Killed or Injured, by Age and Injury Severity,” Traffic Safety Facts 2009: Early Edition, DOT HS 811 402 (January 2011), 88, (accessed September 29, 2011).
3“10 Facts on Global Road Safety,” World Health Organization, May 2011, (accessed September 29, 2011).
4“Large Trucks,” NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts: 2009 Data, DOT HS 811 158 (September 2009), (accessed September 29, 2011).
5“Overview,” NHTSA, Traffic Safety Facts: 2009 Data, DOT HS 811 392 (April 2011), 9, (accessed September 29, 2011).
7Report to Congress on the Large Truck Crash Causation Study (Springfield, VA: U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, March 2006), (accessed September 29, 2011).
9Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, “Operation Safe Driver Targets CMV, Non-CMV Drivers: Campaign Identifies and Takes Action on Problem Driving Behaviors,” press release, December 20, 2007, (accessed October 3, 2011).

Please cite as:

Stephen A. Keppler, "Saving Lives by Citing Truck and Bus Violations," Highway Safety Initiatives, The Police Chief 78 (November 2011): 82.

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From The Police Chief, vol. LXXVIII, no. 11, November 2011. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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