By Kristen Bolt
MIAMI Ovidio Antonio Montoya's hands shook as he handed
over his driver's license to Florida Highway Patrolman Lt.
Pat Santangelo on Thursday.
Montoya had just been stopped for transporting loose dirt
in his truck while the cover, meant to prevent the material
from being blown onto the highway and the cars behind him,
The stop, on Interstate 95 near Sunrise Boulevard in Broward
County, was part of Operation Safe Ride, a two-day statewide
mission to reduce aggressive driving and crack down on improperly
The FHP deployed every trooper, even the desk workers --
Santangelo is a public information officer -- in response
to what FHP Maj. Ernesto Duarte referred to as ``an inordinate
amount of public complaints about truckers on the highways.''
Montoya is one of many truck drivers who transport loose
materials, such as sand, earth and rock, on Florida's most
heavily used roadways.
The problem, said Santangelo, who heard the ping of loose
gravel hitting his windshield more than once on Thursday,
is that the drivers are often not the owners of the trucks
with faulty equipment. The owners who are responsible for
the trucks' maintenance do not feel the sting of the $47 fine
for unsecure cargo.
Some groups and legislators are lobbying to increase the
fines and up the penalty for unsecured cargo from a nonmoving
violation to a moving violation. Otherwise, they say, drivers
can accrue multiple tickets with little fear of damaging their
Montoya explained that he had asked the truck's owner to
fix the tarpaulin's clasp, to no avail.
Although the driver is responsible for the condition of the
truck he's driving, Santangelo explained: ``Many of these
drivers do not have other economic opportunities. Either they
drive the trucks and make money or they stay home.''
Santangelo contacted the owner, threatened to prohibit the
truck from being moved from the side of the road, and extracted
a promise to correct the problem. He guaranteed a personal
This action, Santangelo said, can be more effective than
fining the driver.
Eugene Williams didn't get ticketed either. Santangelo pulled
him over on Florida's Turnpike near Pompano Beach for having
a cooler and some tools loose in the bed of his truck. The
solution was simple: lock the items down and drive away safer.
Jesus Fernandez was not so lucky. Fernandez, unaware that
the red car at his side on I-95 near Sunrise Boulevard was
an unmarked highway patrol vehicle, made a break for the fast
He made the move by hitting 90 mph, tailgating and making
unsignaled lane changes and harrowing cut offs, Santangelo
Muttering ''This guy is crazy,'' Santangelo was on his tail
with the sirens on in a startlingly short period of time.
Fernandez, a Miami resident who was transporting a rental
car for his employer Alamo, was ticketed for speeding that
constituted aggressive driving.
Aggressive highway driving, as defined by the Department
of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, can include speeding,
tailgating, passing on the right, careless driving, and quickly
changing more than one lane without signaling (known as ''lane
surfing'' to FHP troopers).
Fatalities and crashes associated with aggressive driving
decreased from the late 1980s until 1997, according to the
most recent study available from the Department of Highway
Safety and Motor Vehicles.