Webinar presenter Dr. Jeff Fox answered a number of your questions after his presentation, Traffic Safety through Education, Engineering, and Enforcement. Here are just a few of his responses.
Audience Question: What are some of those technologies that are ready today that agencies should consider implementing on the roads?
Dr. Jeff Fox: I think, well, it depends on the agency. If you’re an enforcement agency, you’re going to have to work with your transportation agencies when it comes to automated enforcement, the red lights, and that sort of thing. A lot of this is going to fall under the automobile industry when it comes to people, designs, and that sort of thing, and that’s not where I focus. I just kind of wanted to show you some of the things and they’re always coming up with more and more which is good. The traffic engineering side, the best thing to do is to work with your traffic safety department and have them come in and talk about what other things are out there and get these teams to go in. I’m seeing more and more, not to the degree it should be, but a lot more focus on roundabouts, a lot more focus on traffic calming. A lot more focus on lane usage, rumble strips, lights. I think they’re working on better pavement. They’re working on a reflectorized lines at night because those are hard to see and then, of course, the turn lanes, the elongated turn lanes, and on-ramps. Those are all important. So, a lot of this falls under the engineering, the traffic, and automobile enforcement with law enforcement. We did one thing which I wasn’t a big fan of because I just didn’t think it was efficient and effective. We started doing aerial enforcement. I wasn’t a big fan of it because it costs a lot of money. It took two people all the time. We had to have the code rewritten because otherwise, you’re going to have to have a trooper who was in an airplane always in court on every case. So, and then you had to do the lane markings and all of that. I’m a big fan of various types of radar. I like for all my units to have radar. So, you have all those different things. Field sobriety, you know, I like the Alco Sensor. Some people still use balloons. So, there’s a lot of different things out there and then we have the apps and all those things are available to the families. I think a lot of it still comes back to the rubber on the road but I’m not sure if I gave you any help or not. That’s where we come together because there are other people who could bring tools in that we may not have. Now, I would also say the enforcement people have a role to play in education as well and talking to the kids. I used to love to go talk to the kids in juvenile court, the intoxicated goggles they wear, and that sort of thing. So, there really isn’t one area. There’s a lot of different places. There’s a lot of new things coming out. A lot are in new apps and that sort of thing. When it comes to the area of the automobile industry? That’s another whole bailiwick. I’m not sure what is down the road other than the autonomous vehicles? I’m just not a huge fan of those. I guess because I’m a dinosaur.
Audience Question: Given the recent events in Minneapolis and around the US, do you foresee changes or modifications implementing the enforcement piece?
Dr. Jeff Fox: Yeah, I know of a few jurisdictions where they’ve already been told – there are two parts of this – where they’ve been told, especially when things are heated, don’t do what you don’t have to do. That’s very sad. There’s no proactive work going on. I think even if officers aren’t being told to chill out right now, I think a lot of them are going to be a lot more reserved because here’s the thing when it comes to any enforcement and this is what rubs me wrong, if politicians will create laws that they know is the job of the police to enforce. So, the police have to go out and enforce these laws which are created. Now, I guess they weren’t created just for the fun of it. They were created for a reason why they should have been created. So, the police officer has to go out and enforce the law, and they don’t know whether that person that they stop or deal with is going to comply or not until they engage that person. So, I hope we don’t get to the point where a police officer has to go up to the person and say, I’m going to enforce the law on you, unless you don’t want me then I’ll leave because that seems to be almost where we are, and we can’t function like that. There’s got to be a decision made by the majority in this country to decide whether we’re going to let the police do their jobs or not going to do their jobs. It’s not just criminal laws, also traffic. A lot of stuff I was told as a young MP, one out of every 10 traffic stops, you’ll find more than what you stopped him or her for, and that has always held true. Quite often, more than that. So, you don’t know when you stop somebody, what you’re getting. We’ve got to have that backing via the community. It really boils down to that. If you don’t want laws enforced, then get rid of that law. Use good judgment, use discretion. I’m afraid we’re going to see a big decline and all that. I told you not to do this for revenue purposes but you’re going to see a lot of jurisdictions lose a lot of money because a lot of money comes in for this. That’s not the reason we should be doing it, but you will see a huge decrease in that. I’m afraid you’re going to see an increase in traffic fatalities and traffic accidents. You guys already have seen the huge upswing in crime and criminals get from one place to another almost in vehicles every time. So, the answer is I don’t see it boding well at all. I guess we’re going to wait to see what happens.
Audience Question: Jeff, can you use the term traffic calming a couple of times during your presentation. Can you talk about what that means?
Dr. Jeff Fox: The biggest example, the best example is a roundabout. You can’t put them everywhere. There are some roads where they fit nicely. They fit in the subdivisions nicely. What it does is it breaks up the flow and the speed of vehicles and also it actually is cheaper in the long run. Sometimes it takes up a little more land, but you don’t have to use traffic lights. You have to get into the circle, like a washbasin you get into. The traffic rotaries are one of the biggest car traffic calming I’ve seen. Another one is rumble strips and you can’t put those everywhere. You can put those, usually in subdivisions. When you talk about traffic calming most of the time, you’re talking about residential areas. I live in a subdivision. I’m kind of anal about things that I did for so long. I haven’t done police work in 16 years, but my mind has always been one. It was a private subdivision and about 6 or 7 years ago, they brought it into the state system. So now, there are stop signs everywhere, but my wife and I are pretty much the only ones who stop at them because people aren’t used to stopping at them. Somebody needs to come out here and do some enforcement, you know. But really, those are the two big areas that traffic calming usually going to be in the form of one of those and it’s normally in a residential area. That’s a good thing and that goes back to also most state laws are going to spell out what the speed limits are, and it’s based on different definitions like what it is for a residential area. A lot of times you won’t see speed limit signs on a lot of roads because it’s written into the code or certain way. People are not as observant as they used to be. There’s too much on their minds. So, I really think we need to do a lot of work in that signage area, too. Those are the two big examples of traffic calming. There are probably some other ones but those are the ones that come to mind.
Audience Question: How did you deal with officers who don’t want to write tickets either because they don’t want to be the bad guy, or they feel bad for people. A lot of them don’t because they don’t want to have to go to court for a hearing.
Dr. Jeff Fox: That’s a great question. Wow. Every agency is different. I guess it depends on what the focus of your agency is. First of all, if it was not written into their position description and not evaluated on it, that becomes a little bit of issue. So, it needs to be part of their position description and they need to be evaluated on it. Now, the difficult part of that is, and officers are very smart about this, if you start to hold them accountable for numbers, some of them will come back at you and say, you can’t give me a quota or we’ll go to the media and say, I’ve been told I have to write a certain number of tickets. So, you got to be very careful. I’ll give you an example and then we looked at, well, what is the average in our area? What is average? I would say most of our people probably wrote about three tickets a day. I wrote about 10 tickets a day. I didn’t work the road as much. I was doing a lot of other stuff, training, and giving talks, and that sort of thing but when I did, I did a lot of work, but the average is about 3 or 4 tickets a day for most people, which is about 20 a week roughly. That was our job as enforcement, but we had to do other stuff, too. While I’m saying that, I think an officer ought to be well rounded in criminal work and traffic work and public safety and public speaking and service. It shouldn’t be one thing. We shouldn’t look at people as a number. So, we want to be careful about that. I had a sergeant come to me one-time and he said, we’ve got a problem. This is three quarters the way into the year. I said, what’s the problem? I was lieutenant and he had the first sergeant between us. I said, what’s the problem? He said well, I’ve got a guy who’s only written like a 160 some tickets in nine months which is like nothing hardly for our people. I said, so what have you done about it? He said well I haven’t done anything about it. I said, well, why am I only hear about this now? He wasn’t a very good sergeant bottom line and I said, well, you need to put him under standards of conduct. You need to sit down and you need to figure out a plan. Maybe there are 100 tickets by that time. So, you need to get a plan together and figure out what you’re going to do with him. So, he did. Come to the end of the year, he had like 167 tickets. When it came time for his evaluation, that category, he got a horrible score, he did well on everything else. So, he asked the sergeant. He said, what am I supposed to do? Sarge said, I don’t know, you need to ask the lieutenant. Well, first of all, that’s a poor sergeant right there. So, then the guy came to me and complained. I said I can tell you right now, you could quadruple your work and still just be doing okay. So, that just gave him a ballpark. You got to be careful of that. So, he turned around and sued and he took it to court. A lawyer called me, he said, did you tell them that? I said that’s exactly what I told him, and I said, any problem with that? The lawyer said no, that’s fine. So, there’s a fine line there and you got to be very careful with it. But first of all, it’s got to be part of a job. You have to be able to measure it. You got to be able to use good judgment with it. It’s something you got to be careful with. But by all means, we need to do enforcement. I had a sergeant one-time who told me that well I let people do what they want to do. I said what does that mean? He said, well if they like to do criminal work, I let them do criminal work. If they like to do traffic, I let them do traffic. Suppose they don’t want to do anything or suppose all they wanted to do is traffic, and not criminal. I said they need to be well-rounded. People need to do a little bit of everything because sooner or later, they’re going to be thrown into it. What if you have a community where nobody wants to do traffic law enforcement? So, I think your idea is wrong. He didn’t agree with me but that was my thoughts on it.
Audience Question: What are your thoughts on educating neighborhood residents about the dangers of speeding through literature or social media presentations? What do you think is the most effective approach?
Dr. Jeff Fox: I think it’s all of the above, the shotgun approach. The more you can get it out there. Now, if you’re talking about a neighborhood, I think I’m going to start looking at how big of a neighborhood is it. Normally, it’s hard to do just a neighborhood if you’re doing a media campaign on the radio or television. You’re going to get bigger than the neighborhood, which is fine. We ought to be doing it. I used to do a lot of those. I used to do a lot of radio and TV announcements. We do print announcements. I think one of the areas we do the worst of all is we don’t continue to educate the public every year when the new laws come out. You’ll hear a little bit, but the laws are changed every year. I always operated off of the assumption that ignorance of the law is no excuse, which is true. Honestly, there’s a little bit of that, isn’t it because if nobody tells people the laws changed, how are they supposed to know the laws changed. So, I don’t think we do a really good job of keeping people up to date. But if it comes to the community, if the community has a Facebook page, social media is a fantastic tool. If your agency isn’t using social media, they are missing out. They ought to be using social media for everything positive they can. Traffic and traffic safety, and education, engineering. It’s huge. But if your community has an association or something like that, or just a community meeting, and you have an officer go by there, that’s best. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that now. Is everybody going to go? No, they’re not, but that’s good stuff right there if you can get that done? So, it should be all of the above approaches.
Audience Question: You mentioned increased signage. At what point does the presence of a sign every hundred yards become a distraction? Do you know any reports or studies that can provide some guidance on appropriate spacing?
Dr. Jeff Fox: I don’t. I don’t. Actually, the uniform traffic code talks about regulations. So does the Department of Transportation at the Federal level. They actually have federal guidelines for how all signs are. The laws are a little bit different across the country, but all signs are the same across the country and that’s under the uniform traffic code. There’s a manual for that. It might speak to that, but I don’t know of any study. And like I said, if it’s not posted, then it goes back to what the definition is there. I do think if you put too many signs up, but I’ll give you a story where there was one place I worked. We had an ungodly number of accidents where people were pulling out of this road, cross another road turning left. We had accidents there all the time. So, we put up all sorts of signs. They had seven signs, seven signs leading up to it was like, don’t do this. Don’t do that. Last chance, don’t do that. Really, really, last chance. Don’t do that. Seven signs and all of the signs on the other side and people were still continuously do that and I would write them tickets all day long. I’m like, did you see the signs? What signs? So, to your point, sometimes signs do no good, but I think they can, they can be helpful. I like the idea and also for enforcement purposes, I never hear anybody argue this, but I think a lot of officers would have a hard time if a lawyer I asked him or her when was the last sign stating the speed limit? They’d have a hard time answering that 99% of the time. Do you know what I mean? But then you had to rely back on this is what the definition is, everybody knows, unless it’s posted otherwise, this is what the speed limit is whether it’s interstate, primary roads, or secondary roads. So, a lot of that goes back to what’s written not what’s in front of us. I don’t have anything on that. I just think signage – more signage but not too much signs like you’re saying, you can go crazy with it. Seven signs still didn’t work.
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