Community Insight: Traffic cop can slow chaos on roads

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It’s encouraging to see the Hollister Police Department pursuing the possibility of adding a motorcycle traffic cop to the force in order to crack down on local drivers using our increasingly chaotic roadways.
The Hollister council in late October approved an item urging the county board to increase local vehicle fees to pay for a traffic enforcement officer. The prospective addition of a traffic officer—allowed through a state bill—would have to involve the county increasing its motor vehicle fee from $1 to $2 and commercial vehicle fee from $2 to $4. Using funds passed through state Assembly Bill 767—which requires municipalities to use the money on specific enforcement areas—the city would pay for one-third of the costs for a new traffic enforcement officer. The city would be required to use the money on a vehicle theft task force or enforcement of driving under the influence. According to the police department, the money would go toward a motorcycle officer who would run DUI checkpoints and the AVOID program. The city would pay about $55,000 in new tax revenue to pay for the role, while county supervisors must still OK their end of the arrangement.
The possible fee hike and addition of a traffic officer came weeks after a Free Lance report pointing to a steep decline in local traffic enforcement. As pointed out by the newspaper in response to a public records request: In the most recent calendar year, 2013, police gave out 76 speeding tickets, according to city data. In 2012, the city issued just 43 speeding tickets. Those numbers represent a general decline from the prior three years. In 2011, police issued 259 speeding citations. In 2010, police issued 129. And in 2009, officers gave out 180 speeding tickets, according to city data provided to the Free Lance in response to a public records request. The police department in an agenda report cited statistics from 2003, the last year when the city had a traffic officer. That year there were a total of 2,076 traffic citations issued compared with 1,104 in 2013.
Numbers don’t lie. The severe lack of traffic enforcement on local roadways directly correlates with the steep decrease in traffic tickets issued by the Hollister Police Department and the San Benito County Sheriff’s Office—sheriff’s deputies issued just 44 speeding tickets in 2013-14—along with a gradual decline in the civility of local drivers.
Now without enforcement on the roads for a good decade, ruthless and inconsiderate drivers have caught on. Far too many motorists don’t seem to care about anyone else around them or the rules that we are supposed to follow. Far too many drivers routinely violate relatively minor laws, such as the requirement to use a turn signal, and more serious rules like those relating to speed or stopping properly at intersections.
The presence of a motorcycle traffic officer would immediately make bad drivers aware of the increased enforcement and would improve safety conditions on the roads.  Eventually, if the presence doesn’t work, issuing tickets to those drivers should do the trick.
And although it’s a positive trend that Hollister police have remained steadfast in their enforcement of driving under the influence cases, broadening their enforcement strategy would do a lot more to calm general conditions for the public and to decrease tensions among drivers. There are a lot more infractions out there other than DUI that must be addressed.
The $1 increase to vehicle fees isn’t an ideal solution, but it would be well worth the investment with a traffic officer out there consistently enforcing the rules of the road.

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