Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks in Washington State




Washington Traffic Safety Commission and Dunlap and Associates, Inc.

DTNH22-05-D-35043 001,Task Order 1
DTNH22-05-D-3505, 25099


Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) in Washington State: High Visibility Enforcement Applied to Share the Road Safely


May 2006


Penny Nerup1, Phil Salzberg1, Jonna VanDyk1, Lowell Porter1, Richard Blomberg2, F. Dennis Thomas2, and Linda Cosgrove3

1Washington Traffic Safety Commission 2Dunlap and Associates, Inc. 3Office of Research and Technology, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Selective Traffic Enforcement programs (sTEPS) have been used effectively for many years to change motorists’ traffic behaviors in a very short period of time. The Click It or Ticket (CIOT) model is a well-known sTEP and is associated with an impressive increase in safety belt use across the nation in the past few years (Solomon et al, 2002). A sTEP model typically relies heavily on enforcement of a State’s traffic safety laws (safety belts in CIOT) supported by intensive paid publicity that focuses on enforcement. The model includes: 1) data collection before, during and after media and enforcement phases; 2) earned and paid publicity announcing vigorous enforcement; 3) highly visible enforcement each day of a two week enforcement period; and 4) a media event announcing program results and thanking all the participants in the community.

Share the Road Safely (STRS)/Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks (TACT) is a pilot demonstration program using education, enforcement, media, and evaluation to reduce fatalities and injuries resulting from cutting off trucks, tailgating trucks, and speeding around trucks. It is an 18-month program applying the CIOT model to unsafe driving behaviors around large commercial vehicles. In the Consolidated Omnibus Appropriations Act of FY 2004 (P.L. 108-401), Congress directed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to work with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) to “educate the motoring public on how to share the road safely with commercial motor vehicles.” The appropriation directed NHTSA and FMCSA to apply lessons learned from NHTSA’s experience in high visibility enforcement campaigns such as Click It or Ticket to FMCSA’s Share the Road Safely outreach program to educate drivers to drive safely around large trucks.

Washington State was selected as the site for a pilot project because of its success in implementing other highway safety enforcement projects such as Washington State Patrol’s (WSP) Step Up and R.I.D.E. program in Seattle. The local project (also familiarly called the “Trooper in the Truck”) put a trooper in a commercial vehicle to observe unsafe driving behaviors and radio other troopers who then stopped and ticketed the driver. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC) had the lead for the project and named this pilot project TACT, Ticketing Aggressive Cars and Trucks. TACT was directed at unsafe driving by any vehicle around large trucks using a high visibility enforcement model.


The purpose of the TACT pilot project was to increase awareness by the driving public about dangerous driving behaviors around moving commercial motor vehicles (CMVs). It was also intended to reduce unsafe driving behaviors by both trucks and passenger vehicles as measured by self-reported surveys and actual observed driving instances. That is, a high visibility enforcement campaign used paid advertisements and innovative road signs to raise motorists’ and trucker’s awareness of the aggressive driving and enforcement campaign. The WTSC developed and tested a new road sign prior to the program to assure that the graphic accurately conveyed a positive message to “leave more space” when passing trucks, coupled with an active enforcement message, “Don’t Get a Ticket.” Paid advertisements were placed on radio and in newspapers. The enforcement and media programs occurred over the summer of 2005. The evaluation focused on observed unsafe driving behaviors, driver attitudes, knowledge, and recall of program messages and themes. Data collection occurred week-by-week before, during, and after the enforcement campaign ended.


The Washington Traffic Safety Commission selected four high crash interstate corridors, each approximately 25 miles long, to include in the study.

Problem Identification and Site Selection

During the problem identification phase of the program, a number of criteria were considered when identifying the sites. First, using the most current Washington data (2002), 10-mile segments of the interstates were ranked in terms of the number of crashes that involved CMVs, the average daily traffic, the proportion of CMVs included in the daily traffic where available, existing enforcement citations for aggressive driving, and various combinations of truck and passenger vehicle crashes. State roads were also considered. Further criteria considered in site selection were the cost of the media markets in the intervention corridors and the possible media spillover into a comparison corridor, corridors where enforcement could use aircraft assistance and where shoulders were wide enough to make a safe traffic stop. Finally, road conditions, such as the number of lanes, areas where trucks were not permitted in the left lane, and planned construction projects were considered. From a list of the top ten locations, the final intervention and comparison sites were selected.

Washington State TACT Project Corridors

The two intervention corridors were I-5 south of the City of Tumwater in Thurston County to the SR-512 exchange south of the City of Tacoma in Pierce County (Lacey/Olympia) and I-5 from the City of Stanwood through the southern part of the City of Bellingham in Skagit and Whatcom Counties ( Bellingham). The two control/comparison corridors were on I-5 from the City of Kalama through the vicinity of State Route 506 (Kelso) and I-90 just west of the City of Spokane to the vicinity of the Maple Street exit in the City of Spokane.

Cutting Off Trucks Safety Messages and Road Sign

After considering a number of unsafe driving behaviors around semi trucks, TACT targeted “cutting off trucks” as the unsafe behavior to address. Public awareness activities and paid media were designed to increase awareness among all motorists of the need to leave one car length for every 10 miles of speed when merging in front of trucks.

Road sign. Public feedback was used to develop a large road sign that communicated the safe merging distance and enforcement messages. The road signs will remain up for one year following the end of the project (until the end of September 2006).

Leave more space - Don't get a ticket sign

Paid media. A Seattle advertising company was commissioned to develop a radio advertisement that conveyed the message to “leave more space” when merging in front of CMVs (Appendix A). A Seattle firm purchased advertising spots and negotiated additional free airtime placements as part of this purchase agreement. The advertisement aired between July 7 and October 20, 2005 in Olympia and Bellingham (in Seattle it ran until September 4). The ad ran 45 times Monday through Friday during major drive times (6 a.m. through 7 p.m.) on all major radio stations in the intervention areas. The message reached more than one million people in the Seattle media market, 113,200 in Olympia, and 42,800 in Bellingham.

The table below shows that the $194,425 media budget purchased the equivalent of $384,843 in paid radio advertisements and bonus spots. In the Seattle media market, $94,110 was spent with an additional $89,843 worth of bonus media negotiated in that market. In Bellingham and Olympia, the media budgets totaled $100,315 and the value of the bonus media was $100,560. The bonus media aired during the same time slots as the paid media schedule. There were 6,033 bonus radio placements with 986 of those in Seattle and the remainder in Bellingham and Olympia. In addition to radio placements, newspaper ads were carried in the major daily newspapers of both intervention corridors, as well as in the Fort Lewis Army Base papers. Print ads ran between six and ten times in these papers. See Appendix A for a sample of the print ad.

Media Market

Radio Media Purchases

Radio Bonus Ads

Total Media Value


$ 94,110



Bellingham & Olympia








Earned Media

Earned media activities included a series of press events that were covered by TV and newspapers, posters, banners, flyers, road signs, and large trucks wrapped in TACT banners that traveled up and down the intervention corridors. Applying the Click It or Ticket high visibility enforcement model to the TACT pilot project, WTSC ran the media at the intervention sites prior to and during the two enforcement waves. Media started on the Monday following the July Fourth, 2005 holiday weekend and continued through the end of enforcement in the last week of September 2005.

Enforcement Activity

Two waves of enforcement in each of the intervention corridors occurred in July and September 2005. These months were selected because weather in western Washington State is generally good enough then for the use of the WSP Aviation Unit during the enforcement periods. Each enforcement wave lasted two weeks, running Monday through Friday -- July 11-22, 2005, from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. and September 19-30, 2005, for the same hours.

Law enforcement officers riding in CMVs provided by the trucking industry observed unsafe driving around large trucks. They were equipped with mobile radios. When they observed a violation, they radioed ahead to other officers who made the traffic stop. A WSP aviation unit supported the enforcement when weather permitted, and also radioed ahead to waiting officers. Local law enforcement agencies participated by providing officers to ride in the truck and in both marked and unmarked vehicles patrolling the corridors during the intervention periods.


Citation Data

A total of 4,737 contacts with drivers were made during the two enforcement waves, approximately 237 contacts per day over the 20 days of special TACT enforcement. Most contacts resulted in a citation being issued (72%) while 28 percent resulted in warnings. PV drivers accounted for 86 percent of contacts and CMV drivers 14 percent. Most stopped drivers were male (73%) and the average age was 52. Most were residents of western Washington (28% lived near the Bellingham intervention corridor, 21% near the Tacoma intervention corridor, and 22% lived in other western Washington communities). Very few drivers were from eastern Washington (less than 1%), while many were from Canada (13%) and other States (15%). The numbers of driver contacts were equally distributed across days of the week with the largest proportion (17%) of contacts during the morning commute hours (7 a.m. to 8 a.m.) 

Exposure of Drivers to the TACT Messages

The Washington State Department of Licensing (DOL) administered public awareness surveys to 6,155 motorists who visited the DOL offices serving the four test corridors. Overall, drivers at the intervention sites who said they saw or heard any of the TACT messages increased from 17.7 percent in the pre period to 67.3 percent in the post period (Figure 1). Drivers at the intervention sites also reported increased exposure to the core message of leaving more space when passing trucks (14% pre to 40 % post). Intervention site drivers reported increased exposure to the message via road signs (4% pre to 40% post), radio ads (3% pre to 18% post), television (5% pre to 15% post) and newspaper (4% pre to 9% post). Drivers at comparison sites showed no changes in exposure.

Figure 1. Percent who saw/heard media about giving semi trucks space

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As seen in Figure 2, the percentage of people who saw the road signs in both the intervention and comparison groups increased significantly from the pre to post periods. The increase for the intervention sites was substantially higher. Out of all of the people surveyed at the intervention sites, only 4.4 percent in the pre period reported seeing road signs or billboards, while nearly 39.9 percent in the post period reported seeing them. A dramatic increase is seen between Wave 1 and Wave 2 at the intervention sites and remains steady between Waves 2 and 3, with a small drop-off between Waves 3 and 4.

Figure 2. Percent who saw the road sign

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Self Reported Behavior Change

The percentage of drivers who said they leave more room when passing trucks than when passing cars, rose from 16 percent in the pre period to 24 percent in the post period at the intervention sites, while comparison sites showed no change (See Figure 3).

Figure 3. Percent leaving more space when passing semi trucks

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Observed Changes in Driving Behaviors

Five waves of driving behaviors (1 pre and 4 post intervention) were recorded on video by WSP troopers who followed semi trucks in unmarked cars on both intervention and comparison corridors using a predetermined observation and recording protocol. Approximately 160 hours of video (8 hours x 4 sites x 5 waves) were collected. Violation sequences were extracted from the video based on the visual and auditory information provided by the troopers. Overall, 1,843 interactions were coded from the video data. Interactions included all instances when an officer indicated a violation in the immediate vicinity of a large truck, or when a vehicle and a semi truck’s paths crossed (whether or not a violation was committed).

One interesting question was whether there would be fewer violations after the TACT intervention. An analysis looking at the intervention and comparison sites across each of the post waves showed a highly significant treatment effect (regression coefficient = -0.262, p = 0.01) between the intervention and comparison sites. The odds ratio (OR = 1.30) indicates that the comparison sites had approximately 1.30 times as many violations in the final four waves (the post period waves) as the intervention sites. Using the reciprocal of the OR indicates a 23 percent reduction in violations for the intervention sites. Other statistical analyses showed that violation rates might have been reduced by as much as 46 percent at the intervention sites while rates remained constant at the comparison sites. Figure 4 shows the changes in violation rates over the course of the TACT program.

Figure 4.  Rate of violations per observation hour

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Seriousness of Violations

A random sample of violation sequences was selected from the intervention site video data and rated by three groups of participants blind to the study (5 truckers, 6 WSP officers, and 6 highway safety professionals) to determine if any changes in the seriousness of violations occurred after the TACT program. Post intervention violations at the intervention sites were rated as lower in crash risk, less intentional, less illegal, and less intimidating than in the pre period.


TACT is a pilot demonstration program using enforcement, education, media, and evaluation to reduce unsafe driving behaviors that could lead to fatalities and injuries resulting from cutting off trucks, tailgating trucks, and speeding around trucks. Overall, the evaluation results provide a consistent picture of the effectiveness of the TACT pilot project. Success was demonstrated at every step — messages were received and understood, knowledge was changed in the intended direction, self reported behavior improved, and observed behavior confirmed the self reports.

Public awareness data showed that people at the intervention sites were seeing or hearing the TACT messages and remembering the core message of leaving more space when passing trucks. Road signs were the most memorable method of relaying the TACT safety messages to drivers, with radio ads also effective but a distant second. Drivers reported changing their behaviors around semi trucks, especially when it comes to leaving more space when passing. Drivers near the intervention sites felt that law enforcement was being stricter about unsafe driving around semi trucks after the TACT program was implemented. Whether this perception came from the publicity about increased enforcement or the higher visibility of law enforcement cannot be determined from the survey. Overall, the DOL survey results suggest that both the media and enforcement campaigns had the desired effects on exposure and self reported behaviors.

The results of this evaluation confirmed that intensive selective traffic enforcement that is well-publicized can produce large gains in drivers’ knowledge, attitudes, and self-reported behaviors about driving around large trucks. Applying the proven Click It or Ticket high visibility enforcement model to a safe driving campaign involving large trucks can achieve positive results over a short period of time. An innovative road sign that combined a positive message (“Leave More Space”) with an enforcement warning (“Don’t Get a Ticket”) was effective.

Limitations of Study

The study design included before, during, and after public awareness data, unsafe driving observations, and law enforcement and media activity data along two intervention corridors and two comparison corridors.  This is a reasonably powerful evaluation design because it tracks before and after measures while simultaneously assessing whether those changes might have occurred naturally at the comparison sites. However, the final measures were collected shortly after the end of the interventions. Thus, there is no definitive information on the persistence of the positive TACT effects over the long term.

Also, analyses conducted after the TACT project interventions suggested that motorists near one of the comparison sites (Kelso) may not have been completely isolated from TACT’s activities, which is not so unusual in field demonstration projects. The 100-person intercept interview surveys conducted in October gathered information about possible spillover of the media messages in Kelso, which was 70 miles away. The intercept interview technique is a convenience sample and is not intended to be representative of Washington’s driving population, and further testing would be necessary to confirm the preliminary suggestions of the intercept interviews. If, however, Kelso’s data were removed as one of two comparison corridors, the effect would be to increase the magnitude of TACT’s positive effects in increasing motorist’s awareness about leaving more space around trucks and in reducing the instances of unsafe driving around large trucks.