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Maryland launches safety effort to curb car-on-truck aggression

On his way to an event at M&T Bank Stadium Wednesday to help launch an anti-aggressive-driving campaign, Luis Jaramillo was cut off.

Three times.

"You have those 'Oh, boy,' moments and your life can flash in front of your eyes," said Jaramillo, a driver supervisor for UPS in Laurel. "As big and as brown as we are, to a lot of drivers we're invisible."

State and federal transportation and law enforcement officials have begun a summer initiative as part of the Smooth Operator program aimed at motorists who tailgate, speed and cut off big commercial vehicles.

More than 50 law enforcement agencies across the state will be part of the campaign, which also will include billboards and social media.

In the past five years on Maryland roads, 299 people died and 12,951 people were injured in crashes involving a large commercial truck or cross-country bus, said State Police Capt. Norman "Bill" Dofflemyer, who commands the commercial vehicle enforcement division.

Spurred by their desire to get ahead of slower-moving trucks, motorists abandon safe practices they have been taught. The problem is exacerbated when road rage becomes part of the mix, he said.

"The idea of teaching the other guy a lesson is not worth it and is totally unacceptable," Dofflemyer said.

Last year, in 80 percent of accidents involving a car and truck, primary fault belonged to the car driver, state statistics show. During that time, police officers issued 400,000 tickets and warnings for aggressive driving.

Professional truck drivers say it's what they can't see that often leads to trouble on the highway. Blind spots, which angle out from the truck's side mirrors to the back bumper about three lanes wide, often prevent them from seeing approaching traffic.

Another blind spot exists at the back of the truck.

"If you can't see a truck's side mirrors, the driver can't see you," said Louis Campion, president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association.

Even if the truck driver sees a problem developing, he or she is often powerless to prevent it. A car traveling at 60 mph with perfect brakes can stop within 50 yards — half the length of a football field. An 80,000-pound tractor-trailer with perfect brakes requires 75 yards — one more yard than Joe Flacco's longest toss at an ESPN college football contest.

"We have to be better than the drivers around us," said Jaramillo of Eldersburg. "The biggest thing we can do is anticipate what people will do — because they do it."

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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