Cameras, crackdown cut Tacoma accident rate, fatalities
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Stacey Mulick; The News Tribune
Published: 10/18/09 7:08 pm | Updated: 10/18/09 8:29 pm
The combination of red light cameras and targeted speed enforcement has helped reduce the number of accidents in the city, the Tacoma Police Department reports.
The number of crashes has dropped 20 percent in a three-year period ending last month.
From Oct. 1, 2006, to Sept. 30, 2007, the department responded to 8,480 traffic accident calls. That number dropped to 6,710 from Oct. 1, 2008, to Sept. 30, 2009.
In the same span, the number of traffic stops has increased 50 percent, going from 24,822 to 37,288, according to statistics from the department.
“It kind of feeds on itself,” said Tacoma police Lt. Pete Cribbin, who supervises the 14-person traffic unit. “As the accidents go down, the guys have more time to do enforcement.”
In addition, the department has seen a dramatic drop in the number of deadly accidents in the city.
So far this year, four people have been killed in traffic accidents. Last year, the department handled 14 crash fatalities. The agency has averaged 13 traffic fatalities a year.
Cribbin believes the targeted enforcement, which is driven by analyzing where and when the crashes occur in the city, is behind the changes.
“There’s really no other explanation for it,” he said last week. “Our fatal rate was flat for years. Right now, it’s at four. That is beyond unusual.”
The department recently wrapped up a six-month speed emphasis project that targeted drivers in four highly-traveled corridors through the southern part of the city.
The goal was to slow speeders and cut down the number of crashes.
Tacoma police received a $65,000 grant from the state Traffic Safety Commission to conduct the project. Officers worked the South 38th, South 56th, South 84th and South 72nd-74th street corridors each weekday during the morning and afternoon commutes from April 1 to Sept. 30.
During the six-month project, traffic officers stopped 5,838 drivers and wrote 4,053 tickets. Of those tickets, 1,420 were for speeding, 1,108 for uninsured motorists, 57 for seat belt infractions and 192 for suspended or revoked licenses.
Cribbin hopes to continue working the highly traveled corridors as time allows. The unit conducts traffic emphasis missions in different parts of the city every month and rotates among the city’s school zones. Its members also handle major accident investigations, review the red light camera tickets and help patrol officers when asked.
“We’ll try to come up with more funds to do additional stuff,” Cribbin said. Cribbin has been studying data on traffic accidents for more than two years to direct the enforcement activity of the traffic unit and to determine where to place the red light cameras.
The city has cameras at seven intersections. The number of infractions from those cameras has dropped since the first year they were up.
Between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008, there were 33,152 tickets issued to red light runners caught on the cameras. The number decreased to 22,472 between Oct. 1, 2008, and Sept. 30, 2009.
Cribbin said traffic enforcement can have a psychological effect on drivers. He cited Fircrest, where drivers have the impression that police officers will snag them for going even a few miles over the speed limit.
“We are trying to get that atmosphere here,” Cribbin said. “To get people to slow down.”
Stacey Mulick: 253-597-8268