Local TN troopers ride semi to catch drivers texting - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Local TN troopers ride semi to catch drivers texting

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CHATTANOOGA, TN (WRCB) - The Tennessee Highway Patrol is thinking outside the box when it comes to catching texters behind the wheel.

They're using a big rig to improve their line of sight into cars. They're getting national attention for the new method. Channel 3 rode along with troopers to find out how it works.

The idea came out of the THP's Chattanooga post. They say they're the first law enforcement agency in the country to use a tractor trailer to spot distracted drivers. A little more than a week in, they say it seems to be working.

"It's got a very good vantage point down in the vehicles," THP Trooper Gordon Roberts said.

Trooper Roberts has a million miles under his belt. He was a truck driver before joining THP's force. Now he's merging the two careers in an effort to catch texters behind the wheel.

"People are no looking for it," Trooper Roberts said.

"The Tennessee Highway Patrol is going to utilize every available resource that we can to keep the highways safe for you and your family," THP Lt. John Harmon said.

The tractor trailer was seized for transporting drugs a decade ago. Since then, THP has used it as an educational tool to teach drivers to stay away from trucks blind spots, or the "no zone." Lt. Harmon recently had the idea to use the free truck's vantage point to catch texters.

"Your eyes are being distracted from the road," Lt. Harmon said.

"Last week, both days that we used it, yeah, we got texting while driving," Trooper Roberts said.

A second trooper rides passenger to do the peering into cars.

"If a car comes by, it's no more than just looking down to see what's going on," Trooper Roberts said.

Trooper Roberts doesn't pull the car over, he radios a cruiser up ahead of him.

"They're surprised. They'd tell them that the truck you pulled beside was a law enforcement truck and they observed you texting and driving and people would say, yeah, I was. I got caught," he said.

He says it's usually obvious when a driver is texting, but not always.

"If I'm not sure they're texting, we won't make a stop on it because you know, there's no law against you dialing a phone number and making a phone call," Trooper Roberts said.

Do you text and drive? Chattanooga resident Cody Schlagel said, "Oh I for sure do." Driver Danny Cook said "Yeah, I try not to, but I do."

Local drivers have mixed opinions about this new way of being caught.

"People will find a way to do what they feel they want to do so all now they're going to be doing is they'll be looking over their shoulder, looking in the rear view mirror, for that semi that's coming up," Schlagel said.

"I think as long as it's based on safety for the drivers or other drivers that it's a good idea," Cook said.

If you do get pulled over, you could get a verbal warning, written warning, or citation. The fine amount varies by county.

THP plans to use the truck a couple times a month. They say it's also been useful in catching people with open alcohol containers, not wearing seat belts and aggressive drivers.

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