Holiday patrols elicit one DUI arrest, tickets, lot of warnings

Sean C. Morgan

Sweet Home police arrested one person for driving under the influence during the Christmas season as part of a focus on drunken driving during the holidays.

The period, from Dec. 21 to Jan. 6, was the first of two periods of extra patrols planned to focus on drunken driving. The second will be during Labor Day weekend, said Sgt. Jason Van Eck. The extra patrols are funded by a $2,000 National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant to pay for officer overtime.

The extra patrols required 16 hours of overtime, Van Eck said. The grant provides approximately 40 hours of overtime, depending on officer salaries.

In addition to an arrest for driving under the influence, Sweet Home police made two felony warrant arrests, Van Eck said. Police wrote 19 citations during the holiday period, five of them on grant-funded overtime. They gave 100 verbal warnings, 14 of them during overtime.

Police wrote seven driving-while-suspended citations, two for speeding and several for driving uninsured and other violations, Van Eck said. An officer issued a citation for no ignition interlock device, which is often required as part of sentencing for driving-under-the-influence convictions.

“Officers were fairly active,” Van Eck said. Officers conducted the traffic stops while busy responding to calls and writing reports. “I would have liked to have seen more DUIs out of it, but I felt it was a successful traffic enforcement.”

Police stopped a lot of drivers, Van Eck said, but they didn’t encounter many who were intoxicated.

“We really appreciate when people call in what they feel are impaired drivers or driving in a manner it appears they are impaired,” Van Eck said, referring to cases such as operators using cell phones while driving. Police try to locate each and every one of those so they can conduct a thorough investigation and take appropriate action.

Van Eck is planning two additional traffic enforcement efforts. Grants for $1,500 and $1,000 from the Oregon Department of Transportation will pay for them.

The first, a “Three Flags Blitz,” will target seatbelt use, Van Eck said. It will primarily focus on seatbelts, with a secondary focus on another issue, which has yet to be announced by ODOT. The secondary focus can range from cell phone use to child safety seats.

“With $1,500, we’ll probably have two or three enforcement periods throughout the year,” Van Eck said. “We’ll have officers on overtime and regular time (enforcing) all violations but focusing on seatbelts.”

The law requires drivers and passengers to wear seatbelts, Van Eck said. They must also be maintained in good working order, able to fasten and able to function. They cannot just be draped over a person. Shoulder belts must also be fastened.

Following a seatbelt enforcement period, Van Eck said, sometime in the spring, the department will conduct a crosswalk enforcement effort. A pedestrian will cross the street using a crosswalk while police stop drivers who violate the crosswalk law.

Under state law, a crosswalk exists at every intersection, regardless of whether it is marked, according to an ODOT guide. Crosswalks may exist mid-block but only when marked with painted white lines.

By law, a pedestrian is in a crosswalk when any part of the pedestrian moves into the roadway at a crosswalk and intends to proceed. Drivers must remain stopped for pedestrians in a crosswalk in the driver’s lane or an adjacent lane.

The same applies to turning at controlled intersections with pedestrian crossing lights, in which case, drivers may proceed when a pedestrian is more than 6 feet from the lane into which the driver is turning.

When a street has a safety island, drivers may proceed on the lanes opposite the pedestrian. Drivers are not required to stop when there is a nearby pedestrian tunnel or overhead pedestrian bridge.

Pedestrians also must yield to vehicles. A pedestrian fails to yield to a vehicle, which is considered a traffic violation, if the pedestrian suddenly leaves a curb or other place of safety and moves into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. Pedestrians also fail to yield to a vehicle when crossing the roadway at any point other than a marked or unmarked crosswalk at an intersection.

In addition to focused patrols, Sweet Home police are attempting to address complaints of speeding downtown by members of the City Council.

Off the cuff, Van Eck said, speeds downtown probably average about 31 to 32 mph.

“I’m hoping that some of these grants and the enforcement we’re doing, just the increased visibility, will help slow people down,” Van Eck said. The department’s radar trailer, which collects traffic data, has been out of action for several months, but the police were able to get it repaired and back onto the street, where it had been sitting on the eastbound shoulder of Main Street at the Ames Creek bridge last week.

“It does slow people down,” Van Eck said. “I want to see it carry through for awhile after the sign is gone.”

Van Eck said police would move the trailer elsewhere sometime this week.

Police are working with city Public Works personnel to acquire four new speed signs that can collect data and will flash when drivers are exceeding the speed limit, Van Eck said. The signs also can be used in a “ghost” mode, without flashing, while collecting data.

As police collect data, they can focus traffic enforcement in areas where speeding is a problem, Van Eck said. One of the biggest problems for officers enforcing speed limits is that traffic levels have increased, making it difficult for officers to turn around and pursue a speeding vehicle.

At the same time, Sweet Home generally has just two police officers on duty at a time in a community with a lot of side streets, he said. “We do the best we can.”

Police regularly try to watch school zones, Van Eck said, but in the morning calls for service begin increasing as people wake up and notice something missing or that someone has been in a vehicle.

The police often receive complaints from the School District about drivers passing school buses that have stop lights on, Van Eck said. Police will send letters to drivers if bus drivers can report the license plate.

Officers try to be in the area between 22nd to 53rd avenues on Main Street when buses are running, Van Eck said. Most complaints occur in that area. Complaints are rare elsewhere in the city.

Drivers are required to stop in both directions when a bus is flashing its red lights. Likewise, drivers are required to pull as far to the right as they safely can when emergency vehicles are approaching.

The exception is when the roadway is divided by a physical barrier, such as the Main Street median between 10th Avenue and 18th Avenue. Vehicles traveling the opposite direction from school buses or emergency vehicles on a street with a median do not need to stop except when reaching an intersection the same time as an emergency vehicle, which may need to turn in front of traffic in the opposite lanes.