A Cop’s Take on Pulling Over Truck Drivers

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June 2, 2021
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Motorists share the road with motorcyclists and truck drivers, and either of these can make traditional car drivers nervous. Driving a large truck—whether it’s an 18-wheeler or a box truck—is a serious responsibility. These vehicles are much heavier and spend more time on the road than most vehicles, so these drivers have to be extra careful. 

Because of how many miles a lot of commercial vehicle drivers log, it’s much more likely for them to get pulled over. As police, we never pull over any vehicle, including commercial vehicles, for no reason. Here are the things that, from my experience, are likely to cause an officer to pull over and ticket a truck. 

Driving Out of Class and Registration Violations

Let’s distinguish certain kinds of truck drivers. The ones that operate for large firms—the Walmart truckers, the Best Buy truckers, the big box store truckers—their vehicles are usually on the level. The majority of them are safe unless they are driving too many hours. Even some of the smaller truck drivers, the box truck drivers which deliver groceries, or moving vans, are usually in good shape. These companies and their drivers know the rules and don’t want to get in trouble. 

In New York State, you need a Class C license to operate a box truck that weighs more than 18,000 lbs. But what would happen is, a lot of businesses would register their truck weight as 17,999 lbs so that a standard Class D license would be sufficient. A good cop knows to keep an eye out for these vehicles to make sure the driver is properly licensed and, if he has truck weights in his vehicle, he’ll double check that the registration is accurate. If not, then that’s a ticket for driving out of class. 

Similar to this, some companies try to skirt around CDL requirements by using a large passenger van, removing the seats, and filling it with equipment and tools. These vans would drive on parkways because they had passenger plates. But when they get into an accident, equipment would go all over the highway. This is dangerous, inconveniences other drivers, and the clean-up is expensive. 

So a lot of cops will pull over vans and, if we can clearly see it’s being used for business purposes, then we might ticket them. This is a registration violation, as the vehicle needs to be registered for commercial use. 

As a side note, using a pickup truck for personal use but also commercial use is sometimes permissible. Pickup trucks may have commercial function, but they are rarely loaded up to the point of blocking the window, and so the safety element is less severe. 

Equipment Violations

Trucks that are not maintained well always catch an officer’s eye. You see some of these trucks with graffiti on them, broken lights on the top, even cracked or missing mirrors, that shows the owner doesn’t care about these trucks. And that’s a safety issue. A poorly maintained vehicle is a danger to everyone. 

Graffiti Truck

And if the owner doesn’t care about the look and maintenance of the vehicle, he or she may also not care about who is driving the truck. This person may not have a Class C license and all the training that it requires. Again, that’s a danger. 

So when officers spot trucks with equipment violations, that’s a common reason to get pulled over and ticketed. 

I know a lot of these large vehicles might have like 10 or 12 lights in the back and that’s a lot to keep track of. But if you don’t care about that, what else do you not care about? If you can’t keep on top of changing a lightbulb, what else are you not keeping on top of? So cops pull trucks over a lot of times for that reason. 

At that point, an officer is probably going to check other safety protocols. You need to have the reflective triangles, you need the flares, you need the fire extinguishers. Anything missing can lead to a ticket. 

Off Truck Route

Trucks primarily have to avoid two kinds of roadways: residential streets and parkways. This can trip up some drivers. Grand Central Parkway is obviously off limits. But Little Neck Parkway just seems like a main road, even though it is technically a parkway. Sometimes as cops we’ll use some judgement here, especially if the driver is from out of town. 

On the flip side, we can’t have these large vehicles cutting through local streets just because Jericho Turnpike or Northern Boulevard is backed up. That puts pedestrians and other drivers at risk and can definitely get you a ticket. 

The Usual Offenses

Of course, we also pull over trucks for a lot of the same reasons we pull over regular cars. This could be speeding, not signaling, texting, even DWI. Truck drivers are beholden to all the same rules of the road the rest of us are, plus the additional rules that apply just to them. These rules may at times seem unfair but they exist to keep the roads safe. 

Author Bio

Kent Ng

NYPD (Ret.) Of Rosenblum Law

Kent Ng was sworn in as a police officer in the early 90's and during his patrolman duties has responded and dealt with many vehicular accidents.

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