By Joel Bolton n this last month of the year, we will face many challenges as we endeavor to provide effective law enforcement service to our communities. One of those challenges will be safely moving traffic during December’s busy travel and party periods. Intercepting the impaired driver before a serious crash occurs, getting all drivers and passengers buckled up, and maintaining safe speeds on our roadways—these are three key ingredients to a safe holiday season.
We discussed the public information and education component of an effective traffic safety program for the holidays in this space last month. Educating the public is essential as we seek to increase compliance with safety belt, speed, and alcohol laws. Acceptance of traffic safety enforcement increases when the public understands our purpose: to save lives and prevent injuries resulting from motor vehicle crashes.
Public information and education can take many forms. The news media allows you to reach large audiences with written press releases or press conferences. Public service announcements offer another avenue to get the word out. Community and civic group meetings should be included on your list as well.
Clearly, most of those we serve will obey the law. Some may simply need an educational reminder from a public service announcement to buckle up. Others may want to be convinced of why they should comply and will gain that understanding through additional information.
There remains, however, a small segment of your populace that will only comply if they fear that failure to comply will subject them to enforcement action in the form of a citation or arrest. For that fear to be real there has to be real enforcement occurring in your jurisdiction. Well-publicized, aggressive, high-visibility enforcement equals deterrence.
You can take your choice of the options available to enforce traffic safety laws: targeted patrols, saturation patrols, roving patrols, integrated patrols, blitz enforcement, checkpoints, and more. Police have tested all of them and documented their effectiveness.
Which enforcement tactic—or combination of tactics—will work for you will depend on the problem you seek to address and the staffing you have or intend to make available.
Defining the problem to be addressed should be the result of analysis of historical and current crash data as well as traffic complaints. Data-driven solutions, for example, will allow you to deploy resources where speed-related crashes are occurring rather than to locations where high-volume citation writing is possible but no crashes have happened.
Ideally, traffic enforcement will be integrated into the daily work goals of routine patrol operations. When beat officers – rather than a specialized division or overtime detail – are responsible for enforcement activity, the result is likely to be more consistent action addressing the crash and traffic problems in that beat area. It has also been proven that aggressive traffic law enforcement increases crime detection and deterrence.
The reality for most departments, however, is that staffing levels and call loading dictate more creative solutions. If patrol officers are running call to call, there is no time left for proactive work. This means police administrators should examine other tactics, particularly during special enforcement periods such as the approaching holidays.
Targeted patrols, for example, allow you to zero in on a particular geographic location or traffic safety problem identified by your analysis. You may identify a particular intersection contributing to your crash problem that would benefit from increased enforcement. Or the analysis may indicate that a particular violation should be targeted, as would be the case if belt use surveys indicate drivers and passengers are not buckling up as they should.
Saturation or blitz patrols can be an effective tool. This is high-visibility enforcement that gets results, blanketing an area with patrol units. Short-term efforts are a wonderful opportunity to invite neighboring jurisdictions to work together on saturation patrols, garnering good press coverage for the participating agencies.
Sobriety checkpoints have been proven to raise awareness among the public that enforcement activity is occurring with the accompanying deterrent effect, while providing a means to detect impaired drivers. Recognizing that large checkpoint operations can be staffing-intensive, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has developed guidelines for reduced staffing checkpoints. Low staffing checkpoints can be operated with six officers or less. Whether a full scale operation or lowstaffed, review the guidelines (on the Web at www.nhtsa.gov) to make certain your checkpoint is operated safely and legally.
We have the opportunity to end the year on a safe note with two steps. First, educate the public and your officers about the importance of safety belts, safe speeds, and sober drivers. Then conduct publicized, high-visibility enforcement to ensure compliance.
This December, law enforcement agencies across the nation have a unique opportunity to take advantage of the national campaign to stop drunk driving (tagline: “Over the limit . . . under arrest”). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) are joining forces to curtail impaired driving during the holiday period. A national press event will be conducted on December 19, just before the launch of a $7 million national media buy.
NHTSA also makes it easy to take advantage of earned media opportunities. Holiday planners comprising posters, press releases, op-ed articles, and other materials can be downloaded from www.stopimpaireddriving.org .
It has never been easier to get the message out to the motoring public that you’re serious about saving lives. Take advantage of the advertising and earned media materials by stepping up your enforcement during the holidays. If you do, you can help ensure a happier—and safer—holiday for everyone in your community.