SPD working to reduce distracted driving
BY HALEY JONES
With the holiday season upon us, the Statesville Police Department is working extra hard to prevent traffic accidents during this hectic period of the year.
Throughout the holiday season, the SPD Traffic and Community Impact Division is running a distracted driving campaign to help make Statesville roads safer. This campaign is composed of the Community Oriented Policing Officers (COPS), Crime Prevention Officers, Downtown Community Impact Officers, School Resource Officers (SROs), Statesville Housing Authority Liaison Officers and Traffic Officers.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in 2015 3,477 people were killed and 391,000 injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers. In fact, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nine people are killed every day in the U.S. as a result of crashes involving a distracted driver.
The SPD is working to reduce those numbers.
“The philosophy of the Community Impact Division is to address quality of life issues and crime reduction through highly proactive policing, using crime analysis data and directed enforcement following creative problem-oriented policing strategies,” said Sgt. Anthony Hamby, who is assigned to the Community Services Division and Traffic Division. “The goal of this Division is to improve the safety and quality of life in the City of Statesville Community.”
According to Hamby, holiday activities such as reading maps, grooming, adjusting the radio, and using a cell phone can increase stress and fatigue in drivers, therefore distracting from the task of driving.
When drivers are texting, they can be 23 times more likely to have a crash.
“Keep your attention focused on the task of driving at all times to avoid an accident,” said Hamby.Distracted driving means to drive without fully paying attention to the road. Activities that contribute to distracted driving related accidents include:
- Reaching for your phone;
- Changing the station on your radio;
- Checking your GPS or map;
- Taking a photo;
- Checking email or posting to a social media site;
- Eating and drinking;
- Putting on makeup/grooming; and
- Talking to a passenger
If a driver is deemed as a distracted driver, then they may be subject to the consequences depending on the situation. These consequences including the violation of texting while driving, which is marked by the deliberate usage of two thumbs on a phone screen, which will earn a driver 2 points on their license. If a driver is swerving or even hits another driver because of distracted driving violations, they will earn 4 points on their license and will be cited for “careless and reckless” driving.
The SPD campaign includes signs, enforcement, and social media to bring awareness to distracted driving. Signs placed throughout the city include a white sign with the message “Stop Texting While Driving.” The other signs include a large banner with canceled-out pictures of food, texting and applying making, while the other sign, which reads “Distracted Driving Enforcement Area”, marks the area where the SPD traffic officers are conducting their campaign.
These orange and white enforcement signs are placed in areas that are documented to have the highest rate of crashes in the City of Statesville. Wherever these signs are placed, traffic officers are in the area.
The campaign is also looking to create educational opportunities in local schools.
On the day before Thanksgiving, the SPD invited SVLfreenews.com to ride along with the traffic officers during their second day of the campaign. Not only were the officers looking for signs of distracted driving, but they were also participating in the Governor’s Highway Safety Program “Click-it or Ticket” effort to enforce seatbelt requirements.
Traffic Officers Ben Hardy, Russ Robinson, Matthew Pits and Kevin Brookshire took a break from their usual responsibility of responding to traffic accidents throughout the city on a solo-basis and worked together during a several-hour, focus-specific campaign response to distracted driving. During the campaign, SPD patrol officers responded to automobile accidents, the usual responsibility of the SPD traffic officers
While patrolling in an unmarked car, he worked an area located at the Broad Street/I-77 Intersection, from Starbucks to Bi-Lo, and on U.S. Highway 21 from the new roundabout to Dunkin Donuts. Because he was in an unmarked car, drivers did nothing to hide their violations.
As Hardy observed the violations, he would notify nearby traffic officers, who would then pull over the violators.
Most violations resulted in warnings, but some drivers received tickets.
The officers are adamant that the goal of the campaign is not to write tickets -- they are working to save lives.
For example, if an officer notices a driver scrolling their phone screen at a stoplight, they will observe how long that phone holds your attention. If you drive through the next couple of lights with your phone in your hand, you are considered distracted. However, if you put your phone down almost as quickly as you picked it up then the officers are more lenient.
During Hardy’s tenure with the SPD, he has observed the change of the DMV4 form, a form used for distracted driving. This form has evolved from a straightforward at-fault driver ticket to one that has choices to read “distracted driving by one of the following: cell, GPS, other electronic device.”
Hardy also stated that the SPD is not going to pull every driver over for eating and driving; it all depends on whether you are driving and whether you are endangering others.
Hamby offered a different perspective, saying that he would have the same conversation with a distracted driver that he would with his teenage kids.
“With technology now, kids get wrapped up and it takes away their focus,” said Hamby. “If you have to do it right then, pull over.”
During the first day the campaign was conducted, on Nov. 10, out of 23 cars pulled over, 16 drivers received tickets and only one of those drivers was a teenager.
Although officers were looking for distracted driving, the 23 stops included:
• 3 speeding violations;
• 2 driving while license revoked;
• 3 safe movement violations such as running a red light;
• 5 seatbelt violations; and
• 3 texting violations (which included the teenager).
This holiday season, please pay attention to the road and avoid multitasking. It only takes a second of your eyes being off the road for an accident to happen.
• Use the Bluetooth setting in your car for hands free phone calls and texting;
• Plug in a playlist you know you will be satisfied with for the remainder of your drive before you head out;
• Don’t purchase messy food in the drive-thru and then attempt to eat it while driving;
• Consider using the text alert setting on your phone (or there are many apps for this) to alert others that you are driving and will contact them when you become stationary.