Recently I was driving home from East Ridge when I observed yet another crazy bit of stunt driving that could have easily gotten someone killed. I was northbound on Highway 153 near the Lee Highway exit when I observed a truck in the slow lane speeding past cars. This truck blew by me on the inside, crossed to the fast lane then in his best NASCAR imitation he went across three lanes to exit onto the Shepherd Road exit. There was no way he could have known if the lanes were clear. Even my brother riding with me said, “That was pretty stupid” and he never comments on other drivers’ craziness like I do. However, he was not a cop for thirty plus years like I was. I wondered as I often do where the formerly very visible and active in traffic enforcement Chattanooga Police Department was I have noticed a lack of traffic enforcement on Hwy 153 for a good while now.
Later on the same ride I was traveling on Middle Valley Road doing the posted 15 miles an hour in a school zone. The lights were flashing visibly to let drivers know the school zone speed limit was in effect. I had just told my brother that I wished the “County” would run radar in that school zone as people sped through it all the time. Right then I noticed a car coming up from behind at a rapid pace. I knew they were going well over 15 as they were catching up to me very fast from a good distance back. The car swerved to his left as if to pass, ignoring the double yellow line on the road, but he was blocked by oncoming traffic. The driver then began see-sawing back and forth in his imitation of a car waiting to blow by the pace car at a NASCAR race. He jerked back and forth until traffic was clear then he passed me. He then zoomed up the road .He finally got caught behind a car going the speed limit and when he stopped briefly for traffic at a stop sign I was able to get his tag number.. I posted the picture of the vehicle and described the crazy driving in a post on Facebook. I asked the ‘HCSO” (county sheriffs department) “how about some radar there?” I never got a response.
I frequently drive Hwy 153 from Hixson and through the I75/I24 “split. There is a construction area there conspicuously posted as 45 MPH. I get my “doors blown off” running at speeds ten miles and over that. I am pretty good at “guestimating” speed from my cop career and these cars are running an easy 20 to 25 MPH over the speed limit yet I never see any traffic enforcement in this area.
I remember a few years back (I retired in 2013) that if you drove on Hwy 153 during the day you would often see someone pulled over or a car sitting up an entrance ramp apparently running radar. I know one time as a robbery detective I was en route to a robbery in progress call when pursued by one of these cars. Perhaps a rookie who didn’t recognize an unmarked “Crown Vic” or see the blue lights on the front of my car? I notified the dispatcher to tell the unit he was chasing an unmarked car and he fell off in the distance. But I digress; the point is that the Chattanooga Police Department actively worked traffic enforcement. People knew not to go too fast over the limit or there were good odds they would get a ticket.
I can’t help but wonder why the PD has seemingly gotten away from such active traffic law enforcement. I see more and more aggressive drivers (road rage) than ever before. I know what you’re thinking… he was driving a police car so they didn’t do crazy stuff in front of him. Wrong. Most of the time I was driving an unmarked car that didn’t look like a police car. Can you say Pontiac Bonneville, metallic green Ford Crown Vic or Silver Crown Vic with New York plates? I frequently stopped people for very high speed ( my favorite was a lady running 90 to 100 with children in the car on the way to church), swerving their car at people who had flipped them off and other such hi-jinks. I was in an unmarked car and did not have to intervene but hey, I thought that was not just my job, but my sworn duty. This crazy driving causes accidents and people get hurt and die.
Some may ask, “why does he care, he’s retired?” This is true but I don’t want innocent people getting hurt and killed by these often thoughtless and reckless drivers. I have friends and family frequently traveling the local roadways. Plus myself.
Do I have any statistics that the accident rate is up? No I don’t. I do know that the Highway Safety Administration and most law enforcement agencies gauge their enforcement success on the number of traffic fatalities. This number can be misleading as if an accident victim dies later from the effects of the crash is this death listed as a fatal injury due to that crash? People can receive severe brain trauma and while still remaining technically alive they are being kept so by machinery. The fatality rate from crashes has gone down often not due to lesser occurrences due to advances in medical treatment. Wartime treatment of traumatic injuries has given rise to more treatment in the civilian realm where on scene treatment by paramedics and EMTs frequently saves lives. Ask a doctor or nurse what a modern trauma unit can do to save lives these days. It is amazing.
So even though the number of fatalities from crashes may be down due to advances in medical treatment, the number of serious injury crashes going up? Who defines what a “serious injury” crash is? I would like to see these statistics.
I don’t know why traffic law enforcement seems to be less in the past few years. Is it a lack of manpower? Is it a reluctance to have a probably negative interaction with citizens when support for law enforcement appears to be very low or is it political interference? Maybe it’s a little of each. I know some cameras are being used to ticket drivers at some intersections and high accident sections of some roads. However, studies have shown and people will attest that being pulled over and ticketed or warned by an officer has an effect on their driving after that; much more so than receiving a ticket by mail days or weeks later.
What are some answers for these issues? There are grants available for overtime especially traffic enforcement. As I mentioned when I was a detective I stopped people for traffic infractions. Chiefs and sheriffs could encourage their detectives to actively address traffic violators. School Resource Officers could be utilized to enforce traffic violators in the school zones of their assigned schools. These are just some suggestions. I’m sure a creative administrator could come up with ways to come up with the resources. As far as negative interactions as long as the officers conduct themselves in a professional manner this should not be an issue. Body cameras will support the officer’s actions and suppress false allegations. A public information campaign to educate the public as to why traffic enforcement is being stepped up could be implemented if the administrators/politicians feel it is necessary.
Of course there are some who will say “good deal, the cops aren’t pulling people over.” However, when they or their family or friends are the victims of a speeding, intoxicated or impaired driver or someone road raging I bet they feel differently. Plus traffic stops have led to officers solving all types of crimes from burglaries and robberies to rape, kidnapping and murder. The Oklahoma City Bomber was apprehended due to a traffic stop. Hopefully they will step up their efforts in the traffic enforcement. The life they save might be of someone I know.
– Mark Haskins