City shifts traffic enforcement
Fatal automobile crashes prompt 'zero-tolerance' police campaign
To cut down on the recent number of fatal car crashes in Lafayette, police and city government officials are taking measures to make driving in Lafayette safer.
The Lafayette Police Department is changing the target areas of the Traffic Accident Reduction Plan, otherwise known as TARP, and re-deploying traffic enforcement officers into thoroughfares and away from intersections.
"It's more of a zero-tolerance campaign," said Cpl. Paul Mouton, public information officer for the Lafayette Police Department. "It will try to reduce the number of traffic accidents in the city by enforcing all traffic regulations."
The planned re-deployment of TARP officers comes only a week after the recent fatal car crash at the intersection of Bertrand Drive and Congress Street that claimed the life of a 17-year-old St. Martinville girl.
"With TARP, we used to target mainly intersections. But now we'll move TARP to thoroughfares such as Kaliste Saloom, Pinhook, Johnston Street and Ambassador Caffery," Mouton said.
In 2005, 19 fatal car wrecks were investigated by the Lafayette Police Department within city limits. In 2006, the total number of crashes dropped by one, to 18.
So far, four fatal crashes have occurred within Lafayette city limits this year, Mouton said.
Of the 18 fatal crashes in Lafayette in 2006, 11 involved the use of alcohol; four of those crashes are still pending test results, police said.
In 2006 alone, 23 people died in the city of Lafayette as a result of the 18 fatal car wrecks, Mouton said.
Lafayette's statistics are high when compared to other large Louisiana cities.
The city of New Orleans reported 38 fatal car crashes in 2005, 32 fatal car crashes for 2006, and as of Feb. 22., the New Orleans Police Department has investigated six fatal vehicle accidents for this year, said Sabrina Richardson, public information officer for the New Orleans Police Department.
Baton Rouge reported 22 fatalities caused by car crashes in 2005. In 2006, the number of fatalities caused by car accidents increased to 24, said Sgt. Don Kelly, public information officer for the Baton Rouge Police Department.
In Shreveport, 29 fatal car crashes occurred in 2005, and in 2006, 28 fatal car crashes happened within the city limits, said Kacee Hargrave, public information officer for the Shreveport Police Department.
As of Feb. 22, Shreveport police have investigated two fatal car crashes, Hargrave said.
In Baton Rouge, police have responded to only two fatal car accidents this year, said Kelly.
That's two less than Lafayette's current total of four fatal car crashes.
"That's four fatal car accidents in a two month period this year," said Mouton.
"We need to do something about this, and we need to do something now," said Pat Taylor, spokeswoman for the Acadiana Chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Since September, eight fatal crashes occurred in Lafayette - one in September, two in October, one in November and four this month.
"I find that 80 to 90 percent of car crashes are caused by driver inattentiveness," said Tony Tramel, director of the Department of Traffic and Transportation for Lafayette Consolidated Government. "There are lots of distractions, such as cell phones, blackberries and other distractions for drivers."
Drivers running red lights may be another reason why a high volume of crashes occur in the area, Tramel said, adding that the department of traffic and transportation has been working for the past eight years to "correct the dangerous behavior" of drivers running red lights within city limits.
One way Trammel is trying to decrease the number of accidents in Lafayette is by implementing the SafeLight and SafeSpeed program, which will include placing video cameras at specific intersections in Lafayette that have a high frequency of right-angle car crashes, Tramel said.
The SafeSpeed program will place traffic enforcement officers in residential neighborhoods monitoring speed limits and decreasing the number of drivers who may sometime speed recklessly down residential areas, Tramel said.
Taylor said that a good percentage of fatal crashes that occur in Lafayette could be attributed to drinking and driving.
According to recent police statements, alcohol may have played a part in last week's fatal vehicle accident.
Raymundo Franco, 22, of Lafayette, was charged with vehicular homicide Wednesday morning, as well as running a red light in connection with the Feb. 18th death of Brittney Claire Dugas, 17, of St. Martinville. Police have said that Franco may have been under the influence of alcohol at the time of the accident.
"Unless we as a society say enough is enough and that we're going to change it, then drinking and driving won't stop, because drinking is the way of life here in this area," Taylor said.
"We've got to figure out how to handle it," Tramel said. "People say drinking and driving is a social issue, I say, 'So what?' We've got to handle it."