State police step up speed enforcement on New York State Thruway

(Original Publication: April 7, 2006)

RAMAPO State police have doubled the number of speeding tickets issued between exits 15 and 16 on the New York State Thruway following three fatal crashes in that stretch of highway.

The stepped-up enforcement began after nine people were killed in the crashes, although police said speed was not a factor in any of them. Troopers now issue about 70 speeding tickets a day along the Rockland-Orange corridor.

Maj. George Beach II, commander of the troop that patrols the 641-mile Thruway, warned drivers that the ticket blitz would continue through the summer. Aggressive drivers, such as those who tailgate or change lanes abruptly, also would be targeted, he said.

Beach said the stepped-up enforcement would remain until police saw an "appreciable difference" in speeds on that section of highway. That area has a posted speed limit of 65 mph, but most people drive much faster.

Beach was one of four top state officials who spoke yesterday at a news conference at the Ramapo Service Area about safe driving.

David Barg, a Wesley Hills resident and frequent Thruway driver, commended state police for going after aggressive drivers but said focusing on speeders was wrong.

"Pulling over 70 people a day is collective punishment," he said. "Those accidents were tragic, but had nothing to do with speeding."

Barg, 36, said he would like to see police cars drive with traffic to offer a visible deterrent. When he lived in Israel in 1988, he said having police cars amid other cars made drivers more conscious of their behavior on the road.

"They were out and about, and very flagrant about it," Barg said. "To me, that's a more effective way of policing than hiding in the bushes."

Along with increased patrols, state officials are focusing on driver education to reduce accidents.

The Thruway Authority soon will play public service announcements about safe driving on televisions inside its 27 service areas along the highway.

Nancy Naples, commissioner of the state Department of Motor Vehicles and chairwoman of the Governor's Traffic Safety, called on drivers to drive defensively and to beware of those who weren't as conscientious behind the wheel.

"Sometimes drivers make mistakes," Naples said.

Before the three fatal accidents on a five-mile stretch within five weeks, there had been one death per year between Exit 15 in Ramapo and Exit 16 in Harriman since 2003.

Officials said the Thruway had the lowest fatality rate in its 50-year history in 2005.

That year, more than 275 million vehicles traveled some 10.5 billion miles on the road. There were 28 fatal accidents, resulting in 30 deaths.

The fatality rate measured as deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled was 0.28, compared with the 2004 national rate of 1.46, the Thruway Authority said, based on preliminary figures.

"The road remains safe," Thruway Authority executive director Michael Fleischer said, "but we also want to make sure we're doing everything we can to get people to drive safely."