State program to work with Sheriff’s Office to make roads safer
Over the last two years, Richmond County has experienced a staggering 131 percent increase in traffic fatalities, and we’re not the only ones who have taken notice. The Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) is devoting considerable resources to help bring that number down.
Starting Thursday, February 14, GOHS and the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office will kick off Operation Thunder, a three-month, high-visibility campaign to help rein in all kinds of dangerous drivers — distracted, aggressive, texting, impaired. All at no cost to the county.
“The program allows us to use state resources at no additional expense,” says Lt. Lewis Blanchard of the Community Services Division of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, who also happens to be the assistant coordinator for the regional GOHS. “The state pays for whatever expenses are incurred.”
All of which means area motorists should prepare to see a lot of different law enforcement vehicles on the road.
“It will depend on the time, but generally speaking, it’s going to be a minimum of 15 extra people and it could be as many as 30 extra people,” Blanchard says. “And that’s in addition to the stepped up efforts of Richmond County.”
Besides the extra vehicles, which will fan out to various areas depending upon what the accident data indicates, an awareness campaign is going to expand into various different media as well as personal education, like literature about drunk driving or driving while texting distributed at road checks.
Yes, there will be road checks. And radar stops. And warnings. And citations.
“Really, all components are just as important, whether it’s educational, whether its warnings, whether it’s enforcement actions,” Blanchard says. “All of that plays a role, and the main goal is just to lower the number of accidents that we’re having in our area.”
He makes it clear that the goal is not about writing more tickets or raising revenue.
“The goal shouldn’t be, ‘Okay, let’s go out there and write a 1,000 tickets,’” he says. “The goal is, let’s reduce the number of accidents by 50 percent, and I don’t care how we accomplish that goal.”
Though there are several reasons that could be contributing to the dramatic increase in traffic fatalities, Blanchard says one of the reasons has to do with the fact that last year the traffic division was also answering road patrol calls.
“They were actually assigned to beats,” Blanchard says. “So traffic enforcement, although it was important, it wasn’t their primary function at all times. They had to make regular calls.”
Since Sheriff Richard Roundtree took office, however, the 40-member traffic division deals solely with traffic enforcement, and statistics show that continual enforcement is an important element of lowering traffic fatalities.
Though conventional wisdom says that if you see the lights, you’re going to drive safer, neither Richmond County nor the GOHS are relying on conventional wisdom. Both are using solid information to dictate their reactions.
“The biggest thing for us is the data,” Blanchard says. “Previously, they weren’t operating on a proactive, data-driven mechanism for traffic enforcement, but now we are. In conjunction with beginning data-driven enforcement, bringing in these guys for the three months — that really allows for that time period to see where our real problems are, to catch up and then to have a good baseline four months from now.”
The extra law enforcement officers will come from the State Patrol, which works in conjunction with the GOHS, and from HEAT — Highway Enforcement of Aggressive Traffic — another state program intended to combat impaired and aggressive drivers.
“That’s another thing that we’re actually looking at doing is going after a HEAT grant so we would have a three-man team here,” Blanchard says. “It’s funded by the state for an extended period of time of up to three years. They pay for the vehicle. They pay for two of the officers and you provide one officer as part of a buy-in to the program. And every now and then, when they need you to participate in another county, that’s something you would do.”
So other officers from other jurisdictions will be spending a considerable amount of time helping Richmond County get safer behind the wheel.
This isn’t the first time the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office has teamed up with the GOHS. Over the Super Bowl, they put up posters at establishments that sell alcohol as a reminder to drive safely, and just this week they’ve started pushing an anti-texting and driving campaign with a fairly graphic video showing the ramifications of that kind of distracted driving.
At the end of the three months, enforcement will go back to normal, but by then the driving behavior of the public will have been modified by all the additional exposure to law enforcement.
“If you can get people to start complying in more specific areas for an extended period of time, then hopefully that continues,” he says. “Again, that will all come down to the data as far as whether it works or not, but the research that the GOHS has provided us shows that you do see clear reductions not only during that time period, but for an extensive amount of time afterward.”
Blanchard says that everyone is committed to the program.
“When you make 44 notifications last year — you’re going to do whatever it takes to solve the problem of speed and alcohol and reckless drivers on our roadways.” You Might Also Like: