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Highway Patrol Pilot Program : 'Plain Wrappers' Put Dent in Truck Mishaps

July 22, 1987|JOHN KENDALL | Times Staff Writer

Truck drivers rolling their big rigs along certain stretches of California highways and talking over their citizens band radios have special names for them. Some--such as "White Fright," "Silver Bullet" and "Gray Devil"--are even printable.

And on occasion, they have mistaken taxis, private security cars and air pollution control vehicles for the California Highway Patrol's "plain-wrapper" patrol cars--marked only with a CHP door insignia--thus magnifying the presence of the state agency's 15 unmarked cars.

But, despite their small number when compared to the tens of thousands of trucks on the highways, the CHP says the unmarked cars may be especially effective in reducing the number of truck accidents.

The cars, assigned to 10 CHP-area offices patrolling sections of California 99 and Interstates 5, 880 and 710, are part of a yearlong pilot program authorized by the state Legislature. Patrolmen who drive them concentrate on speeding, reckless truckers and, occasionally, other motorists who commit flagrant violations.

During the first three months of this year, the number of accidents involving trucks was down almost 7% statewide, the CHP said.

But along sections of highways patrolled by the unmarked cars, truck-involved accidents dropped 12.7% and truck-at-fault accidents decreased 19.6%, the agency reported.

"I think we have to take a cautious approach," Deputy CHP Commissioner H. J. Hannigan said Tuesday. "We feel it is having some effect, but we want to run a whole year before saying without question how effective it is."

Truckers Get 72% of Tickets

Hannigan noted that one of the concerns of the Legislature in authorizing the pilot program was that officers in the special cars might cite as many motorists as errant truck drivers, the target of the legislation backed by the California Trucking Assn.

But Hannigan said the latest statistics indicate that about 72% of all tickets written by officers in the unmarked cars go to truck drivers and the rest to motorists and motorcyclists.

In the CHP's Southern District, which includes Los Angeles County, patrol spokesman Michael Maas said the special enforcement program has been "very effective."

For example, he said, in the Fort Tejon section of Interstate 5, the number of truck-involved accidents showed a 47% decrease in the first three months of this year, compared to the first quarter of 1986.

The unmarked cars are painted like passenger cars, except they have a white door bearing the CHP insignia. They are driven by uniformed officers, but they do not have dashboard mounts for shotguns, roof bars with red and yellow lights, whip antennas or push bumpers.

They are assigned to cover a 147-mile segment of California 99 and Interstate 5 from Bakersfield to the Verdugo Hills in the La Canada-Flintridge area; 16 miles of Interstate 5 in the Santa Ana area; 5.5 miles of Interstate 710 in the Los Angeles area; 61.7 miles of California 99 between Modesto and Merced, and 36.6 miles of Interstate 880 from Oakland to Hayward.

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