News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

June 22, 2012

There’s someone watching

State police finding new ways to crack down on speeding motorists

SEELYVILLE — Indiana State Police Trooper Jesse Schmidt hadn’t even made it to Tabertown Road when a Camaro flew by him at 57 miles per hour.

Driving a 2011 Dodge Ram pick-up truck marked as an Indiana Department of Transportation vehicle, Schmidt flipped on his sirens and stopped the car, part of the agency’s latest Crash-Reduction Enforcement Program.

You can imagine the Camaro driver’s surprise.

That kind of surprise may be a frequent occurrence as ISP goes to a range of vehicles — including INDOT trucks — to crack down on speeders.

Earlier Thursday afternoon, ISP Putnamville District Commander Lt. Dan Jones explained that this year’s spike in crashes has troopers employing new tactics in their efforts to reduce fatalities.

Seventeen fatal accidents have been recorded in the Putnamville district since January. According to Sgt. Joe Watts, that is just eight fewer than the 25 fatalities in the district for all of 2011. The number for all of 2010 was 35.

With 17 already tabulated before July of this year, officials want those numbers halted, he said.

Of the Wabash Valley fatalities, 12 involved a single vehicle, which is a rather unique occurrence, Jones said. Six of the local fatal accidents involved persons not wearing seatbelts. Most occurred between noon and midnight.

“Statewide and locally, we are studying these districts and working to reverse that trend,” he said, stating that across Indiana, fatal accidents are up about 24 percent from 2011.

Reading off numbers during a media conference hosted at the Terre Haute International Airport, Jones said the trend is “alarming.”

“Our number one mission is to reduce these crashes,” he said, adding the agency is prepared to employ a full cadre of vehicles in that effort.

Standing in front of an eclectic mix of motors, Jones pointed to red Ford Mustangs, white Dodge Chargers, Dodge Ram trucks marked as INDOT vehicles, a Harley Davidson motorcycle and a fixed-wing airplane. Marked and unmarked alike, the vehicles will scour roadways in search of dangerous drivers, he said.

“Another interesting observation is the correlation between the numbers of Indiana State Police traffic contacts, tickets or warnings, issued as compared to the number of reported traffic crashes from all police agencies across Indiana,” he said.

As measured between July 2008 and March 2012, the number of traffic tickets and warnings issued is inversely correlated to the number of crashes — meaning more enforcement equals fewer fatalities.

Watts said the Putnamville district staffs about 30 troopers, while 1,320 serve the entire state. From top to bottom, reducing crashes is the goal at hand.

The rise in fatalities seems to be most prominent in rural areas, Jones said. Last year, the city of Terre Haute witnessed a relatively number of such accidents, and enforcement was stepped up there in response. This year, only three fatalities have occurred in Terre Haute to date, and while the ISP won’t abandon the city, it will have to move out into the rural areas to respond to the recent increase.

While driving his truck on patrol around Chamberlain Road and U.S. 40 at East Glenn, Schmidt said his focus isn’t so much on expired license plates as it is on aggressive drivers and other indicators of “crash causalities.”

Minutes after pulling over the Camaro, he was back on U.S. 40, headed back east toward Tabertown Road. Setting his cruise control at the 45 mile-per-hour speed limit, he drove in the left lane and watched a car slide around him, from left to right lanes, at 58 miles per hour. Schmidt observed that the driver failed to signal properly and was not wearing a seatbelt.

“We have a zero tolerance policy for seatbelts,” he said, pulling that driver over.

After running a background check and speaking to the driver, Schmidt opted to write him a warning for the speed and failure to signal, but issued him a violation for not wearing a seatbelt. The goal, he explained, isn’t to “load people up” with expensive fines, but to get their attention, slow them down, and get the seatbelts into use.

Jones said seatbelts will be a focus of the campaign.

“Indiana has pretty high seatbelt usage numbers, and we intend to make them higher,” he said, adding that drivers who text, or use other mobile devices while operating a vehicle, will likewise find themselves targeted. “We are looking for people who appear to be distracted in their driving.”

Common factors in fatal crashes include drivers attempting to over-correct their vehicles after leaving the roadway, failing to yield right-of-way, speeding, and driving left of center, Jones said.

Brian Boyce can be reached at 812-231-4253 or brian.boyce@tribstar.com.

 

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