Red-light runners, speeders targeted
The second in a two-part series

PINELLAS COUNTY – In-car cruiser cams have recorded some amazing incidents such as people eating, shaving, reading newspapers and operating computers while driving on busy roads.

One woman was feeding her child while driving, and crashed into a deputy’s cruiser. A man recently crunched another cruiser while eating his breakfast behind the wheel.

The worst offenders are red-light runners and speeders.

Speeding, deputies say, gets a driver nowhere fast.

“It might get you to the next red light,” said Sgt. Glenn Luben who heads the selective traffic enforcement program for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. “It also might get you in an accident where people are injured or killed.”

Indeed, more police officers are injured and killed by careless drivers than during criminal acts. Motorists tend to ignore the so-called “Move Over Act” that since 2000 requires drivers to change lanes away from emergency vehicles and personnel.

One of the most dangerous intersections in Pinellas County is Seminole and Park boulevards in Seminole where deputies in unmarked cars have been waging a constant battle against aggressive drivers and red-light runners.

Luben’s so-called “wolf packs” of deputies also travel from one end of the county to the other to snag impaired drivers, speeders and other violators. He boasts 21 years of service and recently retired from the Air Force’s law enforcement arm as a senior master sergeant.

Born in Connecticut, he lived in Clearwater most of his life. A graduate of that city’s high school, he earned a bachelor of science degree from Springfield College and spent time in the street crimes unit before assignment to traffic enforcement. He also teaches traffic enforcement, crash investigation and allied subjects all over the United States.

“Red-light runners are the second most dangerous people on the road and only behind drunk drivers,” Luben said. “A motorist who deliberately runs a red light will get a ticket.”

Luben said red-light running is out of control.

Too many people are in a hurry. Another problem of red-light running are rear end accidents where one driver stops and the guy behind him just keeps going.

Sometimes people are distracted by marital or other problems at home, talking on cell phones or from just not paying attention to the road conditions. The Florida Traffic Crash Report form now has a section under the heading of Contributing Cases labeled “Driver Distraction (Explain in Narrative).”

“One driver was so distracted that he not only didn’t see the deputy standing by the road with a radar gun, but was completely oblivious to the line of marked cruisers as well,” Luben said.

On-board patrol car cams have caught some unbelievable antics on the road. Deputies created a tape of what they call “Pinellas County’s Top 10 Stupid Drivers” that is used in training law enforcers.

There actually are people on the road with 30 to 40 traffic tickets on their record. They know how to work the system. One driver actually asked a deputy if he would not appear in court so he could beat the summons.

Pinellas County deputies will write about 55,000 traffic citations this year. Many will be thrown out by judges and magistrates, making traffic enforcement even more difficult.

Magistrates are not true judges, but rather lawyers who sit in when dockets get out of hand.

One New York driver who was ticketed in Pinellas County submitted an affidavit in which he accused the deputy of being a “redneck who doesn’t know the Civil War is over.

“He gave me a ticket because I’m from New York,” the irate driver wrote.

That driver was found guilty.

To deal with rising traffic accidents and accompanying injuries and deaths, deputies and local police have launched a series of educational programs. One of the more effective ones involve wearing special goggles that simulate various degrees of drunkenness.

Deputies use high tech equipment for traffic enforcement investigations such as digitized in-car cameras. One enforcement tool currently being considered actually creates an animated accident, complete with street designations and the impact itself.

Deputies and some local police don’t even write tickets. An in-cruiser computer does all the work and not only spits out the summons, but files it with the appropriate court as well. Accident and other forms are done by computer and automatically filed wherever appropriate.

“Most law officers would rather educate people than write tickets,” Luben said.

Sometimes a deputy will give a motorist a warning instead of a summons. That depends on the person’s attitude and his driving record.

“We’re human, too, and we make mistakes,” Luben said, “so most deputies take that into consideration after stopping a motorist.”
Article published on Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007
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