Local police to increase patrols for last weeks of summer

By Steve Lieberman slieberm@lohud.com August 28, 2009

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Police patrolling the lower Hudson Valley will be targeting speeders, drunken drivers and drivers talking on cell phones during the waning days of summer.

Not wearing seat belts also can get a driver pulled over by a police officer and issued a costly summons.

The increased patrols are commonplace around holidays - such as Memorial Day, New Year's and, in this case, the upcoming Labor Day weekend.

State police call their program, "Operation Summer Brake," and will make their presence known to drivers on the New York State Thruway and other state roads.

The state police crackdown will run from Monday to Sept. 7.

The concept is to make the road safer for driving during the coming days through the Labor Day weekend and days afterward as school starts.

"For the safety of all motorists, it is important that drivers slow down, obey posted speed limits and remain alert at all times when traveling, especially during the busy holiday weekend," Thruway Authority Executive Director Michael R. Fleischer said in a news release.

Fleischer also reminded people that they should wear their seat belts and never drink and drive.

The Rockland Sheriff's Department already has started DWI patrols, looking for drunken drivers, Detective Lt. William Barbera said.

The department's increased patrols also will continue through Sept. 7.

The department will be checking out drivers and passengers for seat-belt use, as well as targeting aggressive drivers, cell phone users and drunken drivers, Barbera said.

Barbera said he expects more cars on local roads during the last weeks of summer until Labor Day weekend.

"We will be out there in force to protect the public and keep the roads safer," Barbera said.

Barbera said the state provided the department with $9,000 for overtime and other costs associated with the special patrols.

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He said the department's arrests and summonses last year totalled 200 under the Selective Traffic Enforcement Program, which targeted aggressive driving and other violations.

Other departments in the Rockland, Westchester and Putnam also use their state funding for traffic enforcement. Not all departments deploy extra patrols during this time of year.

The last summer holiday usually leads to more traffic on the Thruway, state police Maj. Robert C. Meyers said.

Troopers will be conducting seat-belt checks on the road, along with picking off drivers who are speeding, intoxicated or driving over-aggressively, Meyers said.

The importance of re-enforcing the wearing of seat belts is that safety harnesses have proven to reduce the risk of fatal injury to front-seat passenger car occupants by 45 percent - and by 60 percent in pickup trucks, SUVs, and minivans, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has stated.

Yet nearly one in five Americans - 18 percent nationally - still fails to regularly wear seat belts, the agency has stated.