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CHP held to task regarding headlight-less drivers
Last week, Street Smarts ran a letter from a reader requesting that the California Highway Patrol make extra effort to cite motorists who are driving in the rain without their headlights on, as required by a two-year-old law. The CHP responded that officers do ticket violators; however, doing so can be dangerous and takes a back seat to the many emergencies that pop up when the roads are wet. Some readers wanted to know more. Below is a Q & A with Officer Sarah Jackson, spokeswoman for the state law enforcement agency: Q: Your sources say traffic stops in bad weather are dangerous. Are they more dangerous than driving in bad weather without headlamps? More dangerous than speeding in bad weather or running a stop sign or red light in bad weather? What kind of message are they trying to send here anyway? JACKSON: “The message that I am trying to send is that officers have to make decisions which effect their own safety, as well as the safety of the public, on a regular basis. One of these decisions is whether to place themselves and the driver in the dangerous position of being stopped on the side of a wet road. In the risk/benefit analysis, only the officer in that situation at that particular time can account for all of the variables and make that judgment call. “In this situation, I personally try to make the stop as short as possible – thereby limiting the motorist's and my own exposure to traffic on a wet roadway – and often give a verbal warning in the interest of safety. Statewide, verbal warnings have risen over 40 percent, while citations have risen 8 percent over the last two years. What a verbal warning is specifically issued for is not recorded." Q: Your sources also mentioned that officers respond to dozens of emergency calls when the weather is bad. Would they have fewer of those calls to respond to if they were more proactive in their enforcement of safe driving laws? JACKSON: "I am sure we would have fewer calls and I am glad to see that your reader understands the correlation between enforcement activity and collision rates. Although, when the calls for service far exceed the number of officers available to answer those calls, proactive enforcement is no longer possible without sacrificing crucial response time to emergency incidents." Editors note: The CHP has about 50-55 officers total staffing an office that operates 24 hours a day seven days weekly. With about 300,000 people in Santa Cruz County, that means there's one officer for every 25,000 people, after considering half the officers work either the day or night shift and some may be sick or injured, on vacation, in training or in court. And don't forget, our population swells during the summer months. It's OK to question the job they do, but it's also important to consider the numbers. They're doing their best with what they have.