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Working toward fewer crashes on Ceres streets
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Special traffic enforcement initiatives in Stanislaus County have been made possible by a state grant which has a goal of reducing traffic collisions through high-profile enforcement, public education and awareness.  One of the more successful programs is the county’s “CITE” team, which is made up of traffic enforcement officers representing the various law enforcement agencies in this county. CITE stands for County Integrated Traffic Enforcement. In a typical deployment of the CITE team, community members can expect to see anywhere from 10 to 20 traffic officers, most of whom are using motorcycles, saturating a given community for the purpose of enforcing traffic laws. The deployments are intense and usually last only several hours, but the impact and visibility is great. The CITE team moves from one community to another on a schedule that is preceded with public announcements in advance.  In Ceres, for example, the police used mobile electronic signs and social media to warn the public of its planned increased enforcement efforts.

The more recent CITE team efforts have emphasized motorists who are texting or using cell phones without them being in hands-free mode.  As most people now know, cell phone use and texting play a significant role in traffic collisions, but the numbers of violators we see daily seem to suggest that motorists have yet to fully realize the message. The CITE team officers, of course, are on the lookout for all vehicle code violations. We pay particular attention to school zones because of the vulnerability of children going to and from school.

It should be noted that school zone problems are caused only in small part by motorists passing through.  The majority of violators are the parents who are often stressed and in a hurry. Some parents stop in the roadway to drop off their kids and illegal U-turns are common. Failure to stop for school buses that are loading or offloading kids is a dangerous act that happens too often and speeding through the school zones when kids are present is a real problem as well. I see the more egregious violations when kids are coming and going to school, which is when hurried motorists are more likely to take chances. In Ceres, school zone safety is a serious problem because the streets and neighborhoods were not designed to handle the numbers of students and traffic volume that has increased over the years.  It therefore takes much greater diligence and safety-consciousness, as well as patience to maintain a safe traffic environment for pedestrians and motorists alike.

To give you an idea of the scope and nature of the traffic collision problem, last year in Ceres there were 407 traffic collisions with 236 injured persons. Hit and run collisions accounted for 124 of the total collisions in 2012 and unlicensed drivers were involved in 52 traffic collisions. Fortunately there were no deaths that year, but there were two fatalities in 2011. There were 257 DUI arrests in 2012 and another 87 motorists cited for driving on a suspended license as a result of prior DUI arrests.

One aspect of traffic enforcement, especially when it is done with the intensity of programs like CITE, is that there is an underlying suspicion that the police are padding their agency’s budgets with fines’ proceeds.  This suspicion is understandable, but not based on fact.  The issuing officer’s city receives an estimated 10 to 20 percent of the fines, and all of the revenue collected must go to the general fund – not to the police department’s budget. The schools, the state and the courts receive the majority of fines collected, and many violators simply do not pay their fines. And it is also the case that not all citations are upheld when motorists take their cases to court. Traffic enforcement is an expensive and dangerous aspect of providing law enforcement services. The city is, by no means, able to add to its financial coffers by providing traffic enforcement services, which is one of the reasons that the state occasionally provides grants to enhance the traffic safety efforts through enforcement. Traffic collisions with their associated injuries, deaths and property damage have a huge impact on the economy. In my view, the effort to save lives is well worth it, regardless of the fact that the city experiences a net loss to its budget.

During 2013, there will be monthly CITE team enforcement periods at minimum, all of which will be announced in advance. The kinds of violations that will be emphasized for enforcement will vary, depending on what the goals are for any given enforcement initiative. Law enforcement will continue to make traffic safety a priority, regardless of the existence of state or federal grants, but we welcome the opportunity to enhance our efforts. We know the carnage, the physical and emotional impacts on individuals and families that have been involved in traffic collisions, so to be enthusiastic about traffic violations enforcement is only natural. I hope everyone takes this issue seriously and does their part to help minimize the amount of traffic collisions in our communities.