Thursday, January 19, 2017

Tickets up, crashes down

Traffic tickets were up, but collisions were down in Crittenden County last year. And that’s no coincidence, according to a Kentucky State Police post commander.

In 2016, there were tickets written for 918 moving violations by law enforcement in Crittenden County, according to Circuit Clerk Melissa Guill. That’s more than double the combined total of citations that made their way through the local court system in 2014 and 2015 combined.

Authorities may have been busier writing tickets last year, but they spent far less time responding to accidents, meaning fewer injuries and fatalities on the county’s 367 miles of roadway. According to Capt. Brent White, KSP Post 2 commander, there were 220 traffic accidents in Crittenden County last year, causing 81 injuries and one fatality. In 2015, 90 people were injured and three died in 252 wrecks. That’s a 12.7 percent decrease in crashes and 10 percent drop in injuries.

“That was a big reduction,” White said. “That shows just the presence a couple of extra people did make a difference.”

Two years ago when White took over as commander of the Madisonville state police post, he shifted troopers assigned to areas he believed were underserved by the agency. Crittenden County, where he once lived, was one of those. Two additional officers – Troopers Brian Graves and Joe Bartolotti – were assigned to the county, joining Tfc. Darron Holliman.

“We had about half the staff we were authorized for,” White said of his post. “In 2015, when I got here, I quickly realized we were not servicing Crittenden County. I wanted to change that.”

By shifting troopers to four counties he felt were underserved, White put more units on the road for policing and responding to calls in those areas.

“When summoned, some of our troopers would have to drive over 60 minutes (to get there),” White explained. “That puts undue pressure on the public, and it's dangerous for our troopers.”

The jump in ticketing last year was mostly attributed to KSP, with Crittenden County Sheriff’s and Marion Police departments writing only a small percentage more citations.

“We probably wrote more traffic tickets than (2015),” Sheriff Wayne Agent said of his and his three field deputies’ effort to curb dangerous driving. “We have so many complaints about people speeding.”

The sheriff said injury accidents his department worked fell from 123 in 2015 to just 80 last year, a 35 percent decrease. Non-injury accidents were cut in half to 25 in 2016.

In Marion, numbers offered by Police Chief Ray O’Neal show the number of traffic citations written patrolling the city’s 39 miles of streets was up 45 to 268 in 2016. DUI arrests were up only one to 16. Traffic accidents fell to 91 from 94 in 2015.

White said the bump in ticketing by state police was not a mandate, but merely the result of two extra officers doing their jobs.

“It’s not about how many tickets were written, but trying to reduce those injury collisions,” the commander said. “I’m not always a numbers guy for my troopers as far as citations go.”

But there are still too many accidents in Crittenden County, White continued.

Of particular concern is U.S. 60 East from Mattoon to the Union County line, especially in the Rosebud area. That stretch of winding, narrow highway is notorious for accidents and a high number of fatalities over the years.

“We have got to slow traffic down on the 60 East end,” he said. “It seems like people get a lot of speed up in the flats, so we’re trying to focus on slowing people down before (they get to) those hilly areas and Amish buggies.”

Traffic enforcement is only part of the equation to limit crashes, said White, who patrolled the county’s roadways as a trooper assigned here. Educating people to the dangers of distracted and careless driving is another.

A further factor is highway engineering, which lies beyond the control of law enforcement. Many of Crittenden County’s roadways built decades ago are unforgiving, with little to no shoulder and steep drop-offs along the rights-of-way.

“Having no shoulders kill more Kentuckians than anything,” White said.

Most drivers, he explained, tend to overcorrect when one side of the vehicle drops off the pavement, sending their vehicle into the opposite lane or exiting the roadway altogether.

“That’s where we have head-on collisions,” he said.

Another effect of increased state police presence was a reduction in overall criminal activity, White pointed out.

“Definitely, the troopers have made a difference,” Agent added.

The post commander would like to see those numbers drop even further as well.