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'Trooper in a Truck' program gives police a new vantage point to stop distracted driving

A Nussbaum Transportation truck sits in a parking lot.
Jack Podlesnik
This is what a semi-trailer truck may look like when a trooper inside is looking for distracted drivers.

Next time you pass a semitrailer truck on the interstate, things may not be as they seem. That’s because it may have an Illinois State Police trooper inside, scouting for distracted drivers.

The Illinois Trucking Association (ITA) is partnering with the Illinois State Police to bring the “Trooper in a Truck” program to central Illinois. The ITA has done similar work in the Chicago area.

Illinois State Police is receiving the trucks from Nussbaum Transportation in Normal.

The trucks will look like any other standard semi-truck. They won’t have any police markings, ISP District 6 Commander of Gregg Cavanaugh said at a news conference on Thursday.

“I guess you could say it’s undercover,” said Cavanaugh, adding the vantage point of sitting in the cabin of a semi-truck versus a standard vehicle makes all the difference.

“You sit in that cabin, you have a greater vantage point to look down into personal vehicles,” he said. “In essence, it gives our troopers a bird’s eye view of what’s going on inside those passenger compartments of vehicles traveling on the interstate.”

Sure, the higher viewpoint is great for spotting distracted driving. But what about holding the driver accountable?

Well, the semis won't be involved in any traffic stops. The trooper operating the truck will radio information to a trooper in a squad car to pull the vehicle over.

Cavanaugh said there were 1,333 fatalities related to distracted driving in Illinois last year alone. That number has been on the rise since 2016. The goal is fewer than 1,000 deaths per year. He said the “Trooper in a Truck” program is part of the ISP’s plan to reduce total crashes and fatalities on Illinois roadways. Other sections of their plan include tackling drunk driving, speeding and failure to wear seatbelts.

Safety is what “Trooper in a Truck” is all about, according to executive director of the ITA, Matt Hart. It’s not just about protecting yourself from danger or even a ticket, but protecting everybody.

“‘Trooper in a Truck’ is all about people getting home safely. Everyone deserves to get home safely whether you’re a mom in a minivan, or a professional truck driver, or law enforcement on the highway, everybody deserves to get home safely,” said Hart.

It’s unknown when state troopers will be driving these trucks. Hart said there’s no real outline on when it will start.

“It’s a safety campaign that we do from time to time — no real structure to dates,” said Hart. “We (the Illinois Trucking Association) just, from time to time, work with the Illinois State Police.”

Both Hart and Cavanaugh made a plea to the public to set technology aside and focus on driving.

Jack Podlesnik is a reporter and announcer at WGLT. He joined the station in 2021.
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