Over the Hill

Traffic stops are our ticket to safer roads

I’m probably asking for trouble by saying this, but I think the police in my hometown, Paso Robles, should write more traffic tickets.

Did you read the article in the Feb. 24 Tribune? It said Paso Robles has a higher rate of injury and fatal traffic accidents than three-quarters of other similar-sized cities in California. (That’s based on 2009 figures, which were the latest available.)

The article also said Paso Robles police issue fewer tickets than they used to.

They issued 6,839 in 2007, but only 1,705 last year. The article also reported the state Office of Traffic Safety says more tickets mean fewer accidents. That makes sense. Years ago, when officers got serious about enforcing seatbelt laws, we got serious about buckling up. Now we do it automatically.

I saw a young motorist last week who would have benefited from a ticket. We were stopped side-by-side on Riverside Avenue at 24th Street. He was in the left-turn lane, and I was waiting to go straight. He suddenly turned left onto 24th Street and sped off while the light was still red.

We Californians often turn right on red, but he’s the first I’ve ever see turn left on red. Fortunately, the traffic was thin. Will he and his possible victims be so lucky next time?

Probably the main reason Paso Robles officers write so few tickets is there are fewer of them (the officers, that is).

In 2007, the Paso Robles Police Department had 40. That dropped last year to 27.

Times are tough. People are losing jobs all over. The city lost millions in sales tax and fee revenues. In 2007, the City Council adopted a no-layoff policy. Instead, it imposed a hiring freeze. As employees retired, quit or left for other reasons, they weren’t replaced. The city now has 35 percent fewer employees of all kinds.

The city’s traffic officers were among the police personnel not replaced. That left the remaining officers with the job of writing tickets. That fact may or may not fully explain why 75 percent fewer tickets were issued last year than in 2007.

When we drive down the freeway at 70 mph and see a CHP car ahead, we slow to 65. We know CHP officers give tickets. We’ve seen them doing it by the side of the road. Such tableaus have a prophylactic effect on our driving.

Paso Robles police would probably achieve similar effects if they were frequently seen stopping cars and writing tickets.

One more thing: If the Paso Robles City Council wanted to increase the city sales tax to support public safety, I’d vote “yes.”

Reach Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.