It's not going to be popular with lead-footed drivers, but the planned crackdown on speeders by the Alabama Department of Public Safety is a good thing nonetheless. Alabama's highway death toll last year was the highest in more than three decades despite declines in traffic deaths in the United States as a whole.
DPS officials announced on Thursday that about 200 additional law enforcement officers will be on the state's highways Aug. 13-17. The effort will be called "Take Back Our Highways."
"Any way you look at it, too many people are dying on Alabama roadways," said Public Safety Director Chris Murphy in announcing the new program, according to The Associated Press.
The U.S. Department of Transportation announced this week that traffic deaths in the United States in 2006 declined 2 percent from the previous year, placing them at their lowest level in five years.
But Murphy said highway deaths in Alabama rose by 5 percent in 2006. The 1,208 people who died on the state's highways last year was the most since 1973.
We applaud DPS for the crackdown. It is a step in the right direction. However, what is truly needed is not a high-profile crackdown that lasts a few days or even a few weeks, but a lot more troopers on the state's highways day in and day out from now on.
For instance, the state conducted a similar crackdown in 2004. Despite that effort, highways deaths that year rose 15 percent over the previous year.
Murphy said the crackdown will not occur just one time, but that the agency plans similar efforts in the future to try to discourage speeders from returning to their old habits.
The DPS director advised speeding motorists who pass an officer writing a ticket for another speeder not to assume they are in the clear. He said in some cases, multiple officers will be spaced to catch speeders who make that assumption.
Gov. Bob Riley has been pushing with some success to get additional money to hire more state troopers. The state currently has about 360 troopers in the Highway Patrol Division, which is up about 40 troopers from two years ago. But the agency has indicated in the past that it needs about 600 troopers to adequately patrol highways 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Until the state can get the number of troopers up dramatically, periodic crackdowns such as the one planned for August are worth trying. But in the long run, if the state wants to bring its highway death toll down the trooper force must be increased year round.