Island drivers slowing down, police say

Most egregious moving violation: 96 mph on the highway.

Worst offense by a young driver: a high school girl with a carload of friends, cited for going 75 mph in a 35 zone on Sunrise Drive.

Most unusual offender: probably the garbage truck driver nicked at 53 mph – 18 over the limit – also on Sunrise.

While the other 671 citations he issued last year may have lacked the same eyebrow-raising interest, Bainbridge Police Officer Rob Corn believes they’ve had a positive effect on traffic safety.

“For the most part, the speeds have come down,” said Corn, who has spent the past eight months patrolling island roads as full-time traffic officer.

“There’s still going to be some problem drivers and scofflaws,” Corn said. “But people know I’m out there, and that enforcement is going to be a lot stricter than it has been.”

The traffic enforcement program was created last year, after ongoing complaints from residents about chronic speeders, and three island traffic fatalities in a two-year period.

Now, in an eight-month review of the enforcement program released last week, Bainbridge Police Chief Bill Cooper, gives the effort passing marks.

“It’s worked pretty well,” Cooper said. “The equipment’s there, the right guy’s there, the training’s there. It’s working.”

Even before the traffic officer was added, the department’s list of “repetitive complaint areas” – neighborhoods generating ongoing gripes about speeders – had been pared by half through investigation and spot enforcement.

Those problem areas have since been winnowed to three – Fletcher Bay Road, Miller Road and Highway 305.

And whether correlative or causal, police traffic data shows a decrease in injury accidents in 2001, and only a minor increase in non-injury collisions.

Criminal enforcement – for reckless or negligent driving, and suspended license violations – and DUI arrests were up sharply in the last half of the year.

In fact, while Corn represented only 8 percent of the “enforcement capability” of the department – one officer among the 12 regularly assigned to patrol duties – he wrote 32 percent of tickets issued last year.

Excluding Corn, the department average was about 120 citations per officer.

The program, though, faltered when serious crashes occurred – including a double-fatality at 305/Reitan in August, and an alcohol-related, one-car crash with serious injuries on Baker Hill – and investigations cut down on patrol time.

Corn’s citations dipped to fewer than 20 in August, when he spent two weeks in a crash-scene investigation course, and the balance of the month investigating the Reitan crash.

Recent offenses

While speeds may be slowing generally, examples of unsafe travel are still being reported.

Three weeks ago, Corn cited a motorcyclist with a rider on the back for going 74 mph on Koura Road. In another stop that week, he discovered a motorist was traveling with an infant unsecured by a car seat – the child was lying on the floorboard of the vehicle.

Now the eight-month enforcement report has been sent to the mayor and city council members – who made the program possible by adding a police officer during 2001 budgeting – for review.

“I can say that the number of complaints that I get about speeding has slowed,” said Councilwoman Christine Nasser, who had yet to review Cooper’s report this week, “although construction-related trucks barreling through neighborhoods are still a concern.”

New speed zone signs and enhanced enforcement, she said, “also seem to have slowed drivers during school hours.”

“Maybe it’s too optimistic to say people are driving more respectfully,” Nasser said, “but that’s a goal.”

In his report, Cooper said enforcement is just one element of a “total traffic package.”

He cited engineering of better roadways and the “education of the motoring public” as other keys to keeping island roads safe.

Beginning this year, Corn will begin an “education component,” speaking at schools and service clubs to raise awareness of traffic safety issues.

Another standard by which the program might be measured: The department has not received any complaints, Cooper said.

“I’m sure we’ve had some unhappy people out there,” he said, “but that’s the nature of the program – writing tickets.”

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