Cards to report unsafe driving may be just the ticket, activists say

November 07, 1990|By Doug Birch

You've seen the bumper sticker: How's my driving?

Too often, "terrible" is the answer, said Sally W. Murphy, the leader of Citizens Against Negligent Trucking. And, she said, efforts to report tailgating, speeding and weaving on the highways to trucking companies, which print those bumper stickers, are often a waste of time. That's because the motorists often don't gather the needed information, she said, and the companies don't always follow up.

So CANT, a Towson-based group of about 50 victims of trucking accidents working with representatives of the trucking industry, plans to begin distributing 10,000 cards Nov. 14 titled "Report Unsafe Driving" with instructions on how to get the state police on the trail of reckless auto, truck and bus drivers.

The cards, which are being printed by Giant Food Inc. supermarkets, advise drivers to take down the license tag number of the offending vehicle, as well as the date, time, place and direction traveled.

In the case of tractor-trailer trucks, the card also advises recording the company name and Department of Transportation number from the door of the cab -- since it may be difficult to trace the trailer to a particular driver.

Motorists are then advised to call the state police's Trooper Hot line -- (800) 525-5555 -- or use citizens band radio Channel 9 to report the incident.

The calls will be routed to the closest state police barracks and a patrol car dispatched to try to catch up with the violator, said Cpl. Michael Fischer, staff assistant for the state police's Field Operations Bureau.

In cases where a motorist uses a car phone to report an incident, that motorist may be asked to follow the reckless driver until he or she is stopped, Corporal Fischer said. Then the motorist could complain to the officer in person.

In other cases, the officer may follow the reckless driver to try to catch him or her red-handed, or simply stop the vehicle for a routine check of license and registration.

"We can't take action based on a call, as far as making an arrest," said Lt. William LeFevre, who is in charge of the telecommunications division. "We either have to witness it or have the complainant there in order for a citation to be issued."

In cases where no arrest is possible, the state police will keep a log of complaints and take action if they receive several against a particular trucking firm, Corporal Fischer said.

That action, he said, could include writing to the trucking company's safety director asking for an investigation of unsafe drivers. Or it could mean a safety audit, where specially trained troopers would go to the trucking firm and review maintenance and safety records on the firm's vehicles.

Ms. Murphy, the victim of a December 1987 accident involving a truck, said motorists who call "how's my driving" numbers on trucks to report reckless driving are often disappointed. "An awful lot of time, nothing is done," she said, and the reports are simply discarded.

Alan White, a spokesman for the Maryland Motor Truck Association Inc., said that while his group is not working with CANT on the Report Unsafe Driving program, it supports CANT's efforts.

Ms. Murphy said the trucking industry has helped CANT in its fight. "CANT is not trying to destroy the trucking business," she said. "CANT is trying to remove from the highways those people who are . . . ruining the reputation of the truck driver."

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