LAWRENCEVILLE - It's happened to all drivers at one time or another - you're cruising along in the left lane and an aggressive driver behind your vehicle wants to pass. To tell you "get out of my way" nonverbally, the vehicle in your rearview mirror rides your bumper until you decide to change lanes. The only problem is there's a tractor-trailer truck to your right potentially carrying 80,000 pounds of freight.
So in order to pass the big rig, you put the pedal to the metal and then make a quick lane change, in essence cutting off the truck you just passed while at the same time keeping the car behind you from delivering an obscene gesture.
The aggressive driver riding your tail and the quick lane change you made to get in front of the semi is exactly what Georgia's Department of Public Safety and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration is trying to change this week on Interstate 985 and 85 corridors in Gwinnett, Barrow and Jackson counties. Part of Georgia's Targeting Aggressive Cars and Trucks program, the campaign's overall goal is to get drivers to leave more space around big trucks, which in turn will lead to fewer accidents and fewer traffic delays on the highways.
"We need to increase the awareness," department spokesman Lt. Colonel Frederick Snellings Jr said. "Commercial vehicle crashes with passenger vehicles in Georgia accounted for 15 percent of Georgia highway fatalities in 2004. And the majority of the crashes are caused because of a driver mistake made by the passenger vehicle."
Snellings said the program has already had success on Interstate 75 in Bartow County and along Interstate 95 in Chatham County and that all drivers on Interstate 85 and 985 should expect an increased police presence this week. He also said the goal of the participating police departments was not only to enforce existing laws through writing citations, but to educate drivers about the dangers they might have posed while driving aggressively. Snellings said that of the 15 percent of drivers who perish in crashes, nearly 90 percent of the fatalities come from the passenger vehicle.
According to Lawrenceville's Steve Jones, a big rig driver and now a trainer for Southeastern Freight Lines, the educational portion of the campaign is extremely important for passenger vehicle drivers.
"If you've never driven a truck before you just don't understand our perspective," Jones said.
He said passenger vehicle mistakes usually involve driving in one of the truck's many blind spots or too closely to the commercial vehicle. He said a good truck driver is constantly checking one of its six available mirrors and that because of this, they can't see everything all the time.
"We're always trying to anticipate what everyone's going to do," he said. "But sometimes all we can see is shadows."
Jones said passenger vehicles should allow 40 to50 feet of space between their vehicle and the truck if possible. He said when passenger vehicles cut trucks off, they increase their chances at being rammed in the back if the truck has to stop suddenly. He said if the truck is top heavy, the truck runs the risks of tipping over from a sudden stop. Jones said all the weight trucks haul makes it very difficult for them to stop and maneuver.
Jones also said the last thing truck drivers want is to take chances which might potentially cause an accident.
"Driving is their livelihood," he said. "I'm always telling drivers 'don't take chances' because eventually they run out."