The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation teamed with the South Fayette and Cecil Township police departments Tuesday to announce the start of a statewide campaign to fight distracted and aggressive driving.
“In the next several weeks, people are going to see an increased amount of enforcement by local and state police on local roadways,” said Jay Ofsanik, PennDOT safety press officer.
A news conference held in the parking lot of the building that was formerly Star City Cinemas on Route 50 near the Bridgeville exit of Interstate 79 highlighted the spring enforcement campaign. The effort, which will continue through April 28, is a collaboration among 350 municipal police forces and state police.
Ofsanik said the reason for the enforcement initiative is simple: to reduce the number of people injured or killed in traffic accidents.
“Agressive driving behaviors – speeding, going through stop signs or stop lights, weaving through traffic, tailgating – all of those behaviors have a tendency to cause more crashes,” Ofsanik said.
There were 6,725 accidents related to aggressive driving in Pennsylvania in 2012, including 183 fatalities, according to PennDOT data. Those totals represented an increase of 12 deaths from 2011.
There were seven aggressive driving-related deaths in Washington County in 2011, the most recent county statistics available, compared to nine alcohol-related fatalities that year.
“People are in a hurry in their fast-paced lives,” Ofsanik said. “They can be running a little behind and naturally tend to drive a little faster. It happens to a lot of people, and they don’t think about it. Unfortunately, that’s how crashes occur.”
Police in marked patrol cars with flashing lights could be seen patrolling along Route 50 during the news conference, with large orange “aggressive driving enforcement” signs standing on the shoulder and magnetic “aggressive driver patrol” spoiler indicators on vehicle trunks. Several drivers were pulled over for warnings and traffic violation citations.
Ofsanik said driving while distracted often leads to aggressive driving. Checking smartphones, fooling with touch-screen displays and paying too much attention to passengers can lead to many of the same unsafe practices that cause accidents.
According to Ofsanik, the spring campaign was just as much about education as it was about enforcement. Police will be speaking to high school students, distributing information to motorists and putting electronic speed-display signs along highways.
“People should think about it when they leave for their destination,” Ofsanik said. “I know it can be tough to get up in the morning, but try to give yourself a little extra time in the morning and relax a little bit.”
The project is funded by a $2.5 million federal grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Washington County police forces participating are Cecil, South Strabane, North Strabane, Peters and North Franklin townships, the City of Washington and the Pennsylvania State Police barracks, Troop B, on Murtland Avenue.
In Washington County, officers will be targeting Route 19, Route 40 and the Route 50 corridor, including the intersection with Route 980 in Cecil Township.
This is the seventh year the state has participated in the campaign, which began as a pilot program in 2006 under the name “Smooth Operator.”
More information can be found at www.JustDrivePA.com.