Texters beware: Highway Patrol is rolling out new tools to catch you
Three Utah Highway Patrol troopers looked out the windows of a black 15-passenger van, searching for drivers focused on their cellphones instead of the road. Almost immediately, one trooper spotted a driver using a cellphone and alerted one of seven nearby troopers, who moved in to make a traffic stop. The van — an experiment UHP rolled out last month — headed north on Interstate 15 at 2:45 p.m. Thursday with an entourage of reporters for a four-hour effort to catch distracted drivers. While the van isn't exactly unmarked — "stop the texts, end the wrecks" is printed on its sides — it blends into traffic better than a trooper's car. And its passengers have an elevated advantage, such as seeing into cars better than troopers in vehicles lower to the ground. In general, troopers are trained to keep their heads on a near-constant swivel while they drive. And although they continue to actively look for violations, having spotters relieves some of the pressure to catch all distracted drivers. Depending on how well the experiment goes, the van may be used more regularly. By 7 p.m., seven troopers had pulled over 40 drivers. Some 26 drivers received warnings, seven others received tickets, according to public relations director Marissa Villansenor Cote. One driver heading north near Parrish Lane was pulled over without a tip from the van. "Like right there," Trooper Derek Shelby said to a Salt Lake Tribune reporter who was riding in the passenger seat. "On his cellphone." Shelby saw the man looking at his phone, holding it chest-level. The man saw Shelby, too. He and his passenger seemed caught off guard, despite driving right next to a marked UHP car. The man admitted to looking at his phone; he was expecting a text from a family member, he said, and was checking to see if he had gotten it. "I explained to him that pretty much any time you have your phone in your hand, it's a hazard," Shelby said after issuing the man a ticket. Shelby doesn't stop every seemingly distracted driver. Unless he can see the phone, he waits to decide whether they aren't paying enough attention to the road. For example, a man who glanced down multiple times while driving near Bountiful. "Like him, he just looked down. He's looking down again. Looking down again. Looks down again," Shelby said, deciding whether to make a traffic stop. He decided against it, because "there are certain things you can do with your phone." For example, GPS. Shelby hesitates to stop people when he can't see their phones, in case their glances are just to check directions. Not everyone who uses their phone gets pulled over; troopers want to make sure "without a doubt" people are breaking the law first, said Lt. Cory Nye, one of the spotters in the van. Utah Code prohibits using a "handheld wireless communication," such as a cellphone, to "write, send, or read text or data" while driving. Law enforcement can't pull someone over for just talking on the phone or use GPS while driving, though it can be a secondary offense, but texting alone could land drivers a class C misdemeanor and a fine. In 2016, troopers pulled over 369 drivers for texting while driving during operations in which officers specifically targeted distracted drivers, according to an annual UHP report. Statistics on total distracted-driving citations for 2016 were not immediately available. "But we all know, driving down the road every day, we can see people on their phones, distracted as they're driving," said Lt. Beau Mason. As rush hour began on Thursday, traffic picked up and drivers slowed down and more phones came out. "The beginning of rush hour. The fun begins," Nye said. Ten seconds later: "There's a guy right there." Drivers to the right and left of the van had phones pulled out; one driver looking at his phone had two children buckled in the back seat. Another driver put his phone on the dashboard when he noticed he'd caught a trooper's attention. Some drivers didn't notice the big black van at all. At least twice before 4:45 p.m., the van pulled to the side of the road to wait, as all seven troopers were occupied with distracted drivers. "See, when speeds slow down, people start figuring they can do other things other than driving," Nye said, as he pointed out a woman looking through her purse while she drove. One trooper pulled over a semi driver who had a fold-out map stretched across his lap. It's the second day UHP has taken the spotter van out. UHP tried the van out for the first time last month in Utah County. And officials intend to continue to use it when they can. The troopers will analyze how Thursday's operation went and decide when they can schedule another spotting event. "We'd like to see it keep going," Nye said. But that will depend on resources, such as time, money and available troopers. Anecdotally, Nye said he has seen an increase in distracted driving in his 19 years on the force. A lot of the distractions he sees are phones, but he sees people applying makeup and eating cereal, as well. Not everyone gets a ticket; it's up to the trooper's discretion. "Most troopers are going to watch and see [if they] are a hazard to others, and they address accordingly," Mason said.
State: Police out in force July 17-23 to prevent traffic fatalities
Law enforcement across Alabama and the Southeast will be out in July 17-23 as part of a special traffic campaign to reduce the number of crashes by enforcing basic highway safety laws. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is teaming up with authorities for Operation Southern Shield — a joint effort between five Southern states— to crack down on motorists who ignore the major factors in automobile crashes and deaths – speeding, impaired and distracted driving and not wearing a seat belt, according to an Alabama State Trooper press release. The campaign is sandwiched between other major highway safety campaigns and is being conducted in response to the high volume of traffic with summer traveling and vacations. The campaign’s goal is to achieve a period of zero fatalities. “Summer is a time when families come together for fun, not funerals, and Gov. Ivey’s goal is to increase safety on Alabama’s highways,” said ADECA Director Kenneth Boswell. “Gov. Ivey and ADECA wholeheartedly endorse this effort and urge drivers to at all times to slow down, wear your seat belts and pay attention to the road.” ADECA’s Law Enforcement and Traffic Safety Division is working with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and police and sheriffs’ departments throughout the state to step up efforts to provide high-visibility of law enforcement and take unsafe drivers off the road. ADECA administers grant funding from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration that pays overtime for officers to conduct extra patrols during special campaigns like Operation Southern Shield at hotspots where traffic crashes often occur. The safety campaign is also being conducted in Georgia, Florida, South Carolina and Tennessee, which along with Alabama, make up the NHTSA’s Southeast enforcement region. Speed is the number one cause of driving fatalities in Alabama. In 2015, speed was determined to be a factor in 28 percent of the fatal crashes; 63 percent of the victims were not wearing seat belts, and 43 percent of the drivers had been drinking.
Pennsylvania State Police trooper killed in line-of-duty
Trooper Michael Stewart was killed in a vehicle crash on Route 711, at the Route 271 split, in Ligonier Township, Westmoreland County, at approximately 2:20 am. His patrol SUV was traveling southbound when a garbage truck attempted to turn left onto the roadway in front of it, causing a collision. Trooper Stewart suffered fatal injuries in the crash and his partner suffered minor injuries. Trooper Stewart had served with the Pennsylvania State Police for three years.
Convoy honors slain state police trooper
The slain state trooper killed in the line of duty on Sunday night will be laid to rest on Saturday afternoon following a funeral at Fort Drum. Services for trooper Joel R. Davis were announced Tuesday afternoon by state police. The funeral will be held at McGrath Gymnasium, 10050 Tigris River Valley Road, at 1 p.m. Saturday. Calling hours also will be held at the Fort Drum gymnasium, on Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. for the public and from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. for law enforcement officials. Trooper Davis was killed Sunday night in a shooting in Theresa. Also killed was Nichole Walters, wife of alleged shooter Justin Walters. Walters, charged with first- and second-degree murder, is currently being held without bail. Trooper Davis, from Evans Mills, was highly regarded by his fellow law enforcement officers and first responders, according to those who spoke to the Times on Monday. Tuesday, fire department, police and EMS personnel in Jefferson County had a chance to honor him when his body was brought back home from Syracuse, escorted by a motorcade of state troopers and other law enforcement vehicles. The motorcade ended at the Reed & Benoit Funeral Home on 632 State St., where the family met their loved one’s body. Although he worked all night, city firefighter Andrew Denney knew that he needed to honor the slain state trooper. He had hoped to join his colleagues with the city’s fire department at Arsenal and Massey streets to honor the trooper killed in the line of duty while his body was returned to Watertown. But Mr. Denney ended up with a contingent of town of Watertown firefighters, EMS personnel and Jefferson County Sheriff’s deputies who were perched at the Massey Street overpass on Monday morning to see a procession of state police and other law enforcement vehicles that escorted the trooper’s body back home. A Cape Vincent firefighter was in his full dress uniform. The convoy of vehicles was met by similar scenes all the way from Syracuse, where the trooper’s trip began earlier in the morning. It didn’t matter that Mr. Denney was not with his colleagues. What mattered was that he was honoring the trooper killed Sunday night while responding to a domestic incident in the town of Theresa, Mr. Denney stressed. “It means a lot to the family,” he added. He was there with his two 8-year-old sons, Reegan and Mason, and wife Danielle, a paramedic with the Watertown Ambulance Service, “to show respect” to Trooper Davis, Mr. Denney said. Watertown Fire Chief Charles Dillon got word Monday about the showing of respect and organized about a dozen of his firefighters to go to the Massey Street overpass to view the procession as it went by. A large American flag hung from two ladder trucks and the group stood at attention when the trooper’s body and the vehicles passed underneath, “To honor a law enforcement officer is the least we can do,” he said. Thomas Horning, his daughter Keira L. Morgia Horning and her sister Cora R. Morgia were returning from a doctor’s appointment when they came upon the memorial. Knowing it was for the slain trooper, they stood at the start of the bridge as they watched the procession go by. “It’s not every day you get to see something like this,” Mr. Horning said. Dozens of people lined up while the motorcade went through downtown Watertown. City Fire Capt. Christopher Hayman was part of a group of firefighters that helped with traffic control while the motorcade came through Arsenal and Massey streets, where county employees from the Jefferson County Office Building paid respects. “It was a somber event,” he said.
To watch footage of the convoy, visit http://wdt.me/TrooperDavisProcession.