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Tailgate, speed or swerve: That's a ticket

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

On a sunny August morning, state trooper Jim Correll set out in his unmarked car with a cup of coffee to stealthily patrol the freeways for aggressive drivers.

Correll is part of the Washington State Patrol’s aggressive-driver apprehension team, whose mission is to pull over people who tailgate, speed, swerve through traffic and basically wreak havoc on the freeways and other drivers’ nerves.

Because Correll works in the commercial vehicle division of the State Patrol, his primary responsibility is to look for truckers who drive aggressively and for passenger car drivers who cut off semis.

Called Step Up and Ride, the commercial vehicle program has received support from truckers.

“We’re strongly behind it,” said Jim Tutton, vice president of the Washington Trucking Associations, headquartered in Federal Way. “We’re participating with them. It’s a great program.”

Correll said he issues up to a dozen tickets a day for aggressive driving between passenger cars, and between five and eight tickets a day for aggressive driving against or involving commercial vehicles.

Because it’s an active campaign, troopers are unlikely to cut aggressive drivers any slack, and the tickets are steep.

Aggressive driving usually includes two or more moving violations, like speeding, improper lane changes, driving on the shoulders or in car-pool lanes, and not signalling.

Correll said aggressive driving is generally worse on the east side, where lines of commuters get tangled in Interstates 90 and 405 and State Route 520. Still, he recently ticketed several drivers near the junctions of Interstate 5 and State Route 18 in south King County.

Tractor-trailers are slow to start, heavy and long. Other drivers frequently accelerate alongside semis and cut in front so they don’t have to travel the larger truck. Correll said drivers frequently will cut in front of semis to get to an off-ramp because they don’t want to drive more slowly behind the semi as they approach their exit.

But because they’re so tall, there’s a certain angle just over the trucker’s shoulder where he or she can’t see other cars, and semis need a lot more room to stop once something appears in front of them.

A tractor-trailer driving 60 miles per hour will need between 350 and 400 feet to stop from the time the driver sees a problem ahead and reacts, and even that depends on the efficiency of the brakes, Correll said.

Tutton said truckers need closer to 1,000 feet to come to a safe stop.

Many truckers leave several hundred feet of space in front of them to give them room to decelerate, but car drivers, especially in crowded urban areas, frequently seize the opportunity to change lanes in front of them.

“The truckers’ frustration is they leave plenty of space and people keep cutting them off,” Correll said.

“They just don’t understand. It’s not like an automobile,” Tutton said. “That 18-wheeler just can’t stop as quick.”

While 2002 data shows fatality collisions between passenger cars and semis were down for the fourth year in a row, 76 percent of those that occurred were caused by the drivers in the smaller vehicles.

There were 56 fatal collisions in 2001 and 50 fatal collisions in 2002. Data for 2003 hasn’t yet been released.

While Correll’s primary focus is passenger cars cutting off semis, there are times when he’ll train his radar on a car that’s driving aggressively against everyone.

As cars cruised between 65 and 70 miles per hour on Interstate 90 one day last month, a female driver in a white sedan accelerated down the ramp onto the freeway and gunned it over three lanes of traffic to jump past slower moving cars.

The driver tailgated another car past a couple slower-moving vehicles and then cut in front of another vehicle back to the second lane. Brake lights lit up in her wake as she sped toward the next exit.

Correll, driving the unmarked car, fell in behind her, followed her off the exit and pulled her over in Bellevue, where he wrote her a ticket for negligent driving. While she wasn’t specifically cutting off semis, her driving was bad enough that he stopped her anyway.

The driver started to cry as Correll tore her $538 ticket off the pad, handed it to her through the window and strode back to his unmarked car.

“It gets people’s attention,” he said.

Staff writer Erica Hall: 925-5565, ehall@fedwaymirror.com

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