How far might we go for traffic safety?

It’s an image that was at once amusing and frustrating, and ultimately telling.

Police Chief Matt Haney, having set up at the roadside in a patrol vehicle to look at traffic conditions at local highway intersection, sees a passing driver commit an infraction –

but traffic is so bad, he can’t enter the lane to make a stop.

The lights and siren are held in check, in observance of the patrol officer’s credo to “never create a hazard greater than the one you’re trying to correct.” And off scoots the miscreant motorist, scot-free.

It was one of the more illustrative items to come out during a committee roundtable this week between police, bicycle safety advocates and City Council members. Newly compiled traffic statistics show that while traffic enforcement – as measured by citations – is up, so too are automobile collisions on local roadways. Safety concerns come to the forefront of community and police attention, after several near-fatal crashes along the highway this year, and general frustration in some neighborhoods that speeds are too high.

While viewpoints are varied and diffuse – Too much traffic on the highway? Posted speeds too high? Ineffective policing? Lousy drivers? – bike safety advocates reserve a special

pique for chatterboxes who can’t make even it to the bridge without a squawk on the cell-phone – a problem they contend will only get worse, as mobile phones become yet more pervasive and service around the island improves. Advocates are girding their views with research on local ordinances against cell-phone use by drivers, and insurance company campaigns to urge the drivers they cover to keep hands on wheel and mind on road.

Their concern coincides with a police observation that vehicle speed isn’t necessarily the problem, at least on the highway; driver inattention is. And driver inattention is already a ticketable offense. Yet the infraction is by its nature reactive; nobody’s ever cited for driving with a wandering mind until it actually causes a problem – a vehicle goes off the road, property is damaged, or a bicyclist is struck from behind and lands 85 feet down the road, as happened to Chris Stanley.

Could a ban on cell-phone use by motorists find political or legal traction here? Or would the newspaper be inundated with letters from disgruntled violators, complaining that the city is impinging on personal freedom, or that police are trying to pad the coffers by writing more tickets?

Traffic volume is largely beyond our control. But just

how serious is Bainbridge Island about traffic safety? And

do we have the personal discipline to confront the challenges –

slowing down, not trying to beat that yellow light, turning

the phone off when we turn the ignition on – without local legislation?

With both traffic citations and traffic accidents up, we’re

not really sure. You tell us.

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