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Highly Visible Traffic Enforcement Drives Truck and Bus Safety

By Jack Van Steenburg, Chief Safety Officer and Assistant Administrator, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration; and Mike Edmonson, Colonel, Louisiana State Police, and General Chair, Division of State and Provisional Police, International Association of Chiefs of Police

The fundamental mission of the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is to ensure that U.S. citizens travel safely from one destination to another. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), an agency within the USDOT, holds the responsibility for ensuring only safe commercial vehicle drivers and commercial vehicles are on U.S. roadways.

Everything FMCSA does is focused on one goal—saving lives by reducing crashes. More than 70 percent of U.S. freight is transported using large trucks.1 Intercity bus transportation is the fastest growing segment of public transportation—moving millions of passengers into and out of U.S. cities each year.

FMCSA’s safety first mission focuses on three core principles or safety goals:

  • Raise the bar to enter the motor carrier industry
  • Maintain high safety standards to remain in the industry
  • Remove high-risk carriers, drivers, and service providers from operation

FMCSA’s Force Multiplier

FMCSA’s success relies on a shared partnership with state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the United States.

FMCSA’s 1,100 employees partner with nearly 12,000 state and local law enforcement officers who are dedicated, either part-time or full-time, to improving commercial motor vehicle (CMV) safety on U.S. roadways through the Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program (MCSAP). Together, these federal, state, and local safety professionals annually conduct more than 3.5 million CMV roadside inspections; 38,000 new entrant safety audits; and 16,000 compliance reviews.

FMCSA recognizes that through the Comprehensive Safety Analysis (CSA) and MCSAP programs a large number of partners and stakeholders contribute to the efforts to reduce CMV crashes, injuries, and fatalities.

A crucial force multiplier needed to advance FMCSA’s mission is state and local law enforcement officers engaging in highly visible traffic enforcement to deter unsafe driving behaviors of both commercial vehicle drivers and light vehicle operators. To accomplish this component of its mission, FMCSA is developing a strategy designed to direct available resources to those places where crashes are known to most likely occur and to target those unsafe driving behaviors that lead to crashes.

Highly visible traffic enforcement serves two purposes: (1) drivers either comply with traffic laws and regulations intended to promote safe driving or (2) they are removed from the driving system through the enforcement and adjudication process, which is crucial to accomplishing the third component of FMCSA’s strategy.

Tackling the Problem

Data indicate that roadways are getting safer. Truck and motorcoach-related fatalities dropped 28 percent between 2005 and 2011. But more still needs to be done. Nearly, 4,000 lives are lost in large truck and bus crashes each year. This means that, each and every day, 11 people are killed and 216 people are injured in large truck crashes.

These deaths and injuries are preventable. Of those fatal crashes involving large trucks and buses, 90 percent were caused by drivers of either CMVs or passenger vehicles. Behaviors, such as speeding, following too close, and failure to yield—all highly visible and detectable actions—are driver-related crash factors. During the past two years, 34 percent of drivers of large trucks and buses involved in fatal crashes had at least one driver-related crash factor, and 4 percent of large trucks had at least one vehicle-related crash factor. The most frequent driver-related factors included: speeding, distracted driving, impairments (such as fatigue and illness), and failure to maintain proper lane control.

During the past year, 34 percent of large truck occupants killed in crashes were not wearing seatbelts. In 22 percent of large truck crashes with at least one occupant fatality, speeding was a factor, and 27 percent of fatal crashes in work zones involved a large truck.2

Even though the causes of most crashes are no mystery, preventing them is not an easy task—the commercial driver population is substantial. FMCSA oversees the drug and alcohol testing and driver fitness requirements for approximately 4 million active commercial drivers’ license (CDL) holders. The commercial vehicle industry is sizable. FMCSA regulates more than 500,000 trucking companies and 12,000 interstate bus companies.

Commitment to Motorcoach Safety

In the past four years, FMCSA has carried out an unprecedented series of strategies and programs to improve bus safety and oversight. However, far too many bus crashes with devastating impacts still occur. One crash can result in multiple deaths or injuries. More must be done to prevent these crashes and make a lasting impact to improve the standard of bus safety.

In February 2013, Secretary LaHood announced a major nationwide safety crackdown on high-risk passenger carriers. To answer this call, FMCSA has dispatched 50 specially trained safety investigators to target high-risk motorcoach companies that risk the lives of the motoring public. FMCSA investigators underwent specialized training prior to the first wave of a national safety sweep in April.

FMCSA’s safety personnel coordinate with state law enforcement partners to target bus companies and conduct vehicle inspections. During the first six months of 2013, FMCSA took action against 18 companies putting them out-of-service for violating basic safety standards and putting their passengers in jeopardy. During this same time period, FMCSA and its state enforcement partners conducted more than 13,500 roadside inspections resulting in nearly 1,500 driver and vehicle out-of-service violations being issued.

Secretary LaHood wrote to the governors of each state to urge their active participation in improving bus safety. The Secretary called for the active partnership of each state to safeguard the traveling public by stepping up traffic enforcement to address dangerous driving behaviors.

In addition to these focused activities, FMCSA is educating consumers and tour operators on the importance of researching the compliance and safety performance of motorcoach companies before hiring them.

Increasing Highly Visible Traffic Enforcement

To meet this challenge, honor its commitment to improving safety, and realize a sustainable strategy to reduce crashes, FMCSA asks law enforcement officers to actively enforce laws against unsafe, crash-causing traffic violations by operators of large trucks and buses.

The strategy is simple, and the tactic is clear: When an officer observes a large truck or bus operating unsafely, that officer should make the vehicle stop and issue the driver a citation in accordance with agency policy and the law. This level of traffic enforcement has already proven to be effective for all types of unsafe driving behaviors and as a crime prevention measure. For instance, there have been traffic stops for failing to display a license plate or failing to stop for a posted stop sign that have resulted in major drug arrests.

In one recent search in Missouri, patrol officers found a false compartment in the truck and trailer containing bundles of marijuana. Another traffic stop of a truck outside Las Vegas, Nevada, resulted in a drug trafficking arrest after officers found more than 450 pounds of cocaine. The driver was initially pulled over for driving erratically.

Interventions like these can save lives. With more U.S. citizens traveling on commercial buses than on commercial airlines, enforcement of traffic violations could yield many benefits. FMCSA’s safety personnel have already begun coordinating with state law enforcement partners to target high-risk bus companies and conduct vehicle inspections.

Passenger vans in particular are increasingly an area of concern. Investigators have found vans transporting passengers in for-hire transportation without any DOT markings or registrations. It has been discovered that some vans have been modified to accommodate additional passengers. There have been cases of extra seating being added without the required safety belts and even eliminating emergency exits from the vehicle, all of which are major safety concerns.

Unfortunately, many of these incidents go unnoticed until there is a tragedy. However, through effective traffic enforcement programs, unscrupulous operators such as these could get stopped and cited and catastrophic crashes and loss of life can be prevented.

Effective adjudication is also important. Engaging prosecutors and judges to properly adjudicate citations for a serious and major traffic offense when issued to commercial licensed drivers is crucial to improving large truck and bus safety. Serious traffic offenses for commercial licensed drivers include unsafe driving behaviors such as speeding more than 15 miles per hour above the posted speed limit, following to close, changing lanes improperly, texting and using a cell phone while driving, and driving recklessly or while impaired. Major traffic offenses include felony use of a vehicle and leaving the scene of a crash.

FMCSA will work with its federal partners at the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to include large truck and bus enforcement as part of each state’s Highway Safety Plan.

New Partnerships and Collaborative Efforts

FMCSA and the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) have partnered to bring the goal of increased highly visible traffic enforcement to life. Through this partnership, more law enforcement officers will have an opportunity to change driver behavior and prevent crashes.

It is always about safety. Everyone wants safe drivers and vehicles traveling the roadways. The trucking industry has the same priorities as law enforcement when it comes to safety and that is why it is important for federal, state, and local law enforcement to work with industry partners to bring about awareness and understanding.

To continue working toward the overall goal of preventing injuries and fatalities caused by operator error of large trucks and buses, the IACP has led the charge to develop and implement state-specific strategies to target “hot spot” corridors—areas where crashes cluster within states, such as rural highways, intersections, and work zones. IACP has begun developing an enforcement strategy to focus on these hot spot areas to conduct highly visible traffic enforcement.

The IACP recently developed a video series to improve an officer’s understanding of commercial driver’s licenses, allowing officers to confidently and safely interact with a large truck or bus driver. The video series covers topics such as how to examine the commercial driver’s license, including its security features, identifying fraudulent licenses, and officer safety considerations when conducting a vehicle stop for a large truck or bus.

This seven part video series, developed in partnership with the FMCSA, can be viewed in its entirety to gain a broad understanding of the commercial driver’s license or in individual sections within the series to learn about specific topic areas. This series can be used during roll call or for an officer who is interested in learning more about the commercial driver’s license.

The video series is available on the IACP website at

Additional training videos include the following:

  • Pull ‘Em Over, produced by the Community College of Baltimore County School of Business, Criminal Justice and Law
  • 18-Wheels & Busted, produced by the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators,

These videos in addition to other training curricula and materials are also available via the International Association of Directors of Law Enforcement Standards and Training, National Law Enforcement Academy Resource Network at

At the 120th IACP Annual Conference in Philadelphia, October 2013, IACP and FMCSA will hold a workshop to engage partners and stakeholders on highly visible traffic enforcement efforts. IACP and FMCSA have also developed materials to raise awareness and educate law enforcement officers on conducting safe large truck and bus vehicle stops. These materials cover topics like approaching a CMV, making driver contact, examining a CDL, and identifying fraudulent CDLs.

Call to Action

Highly visible traffic enforcement of unsafe large trucks, buses, and drivers will prevent crashes, save lives, and make a positive change for highway safety.

Together, FMCSA and IACP, must continue to provide law enforcement officers the knowledge and skills appropriate to safely—and confidently—conduct vehicle stops of large trucks and buses. Effective traffic enforcement, and issuance of traffic citations when appropriate, will go a long way to improving traffic safety for everyone while protecting U.S. communities and families from needless tragedies.

Although the work is far from over, partnerships and collaborative efforts help to protect the safety of the U.S. people, preventing crashes and saving lives. IACP’s support is important to helping FMCSA in meeting the safety challenges on U.S. roadways. Working together, they can make U.S. highways safer for everyone. ?

1Commodity Flow Survey, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, U.S.
Department of Transportation, (accessed June 4, 2013).
2Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, (accessed June 1, 2013).

Please cite as:

Jack Van Steenburg and Mike Edmonson, "Highly Visible Traffic Enforcement Drives Truck and Bus Safety," The Police Chief 80 (July 2013): 20–22.



From The Police Chief, vol. 80, no. 7, July 2013. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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