US cities mobilize to flag down the reckless driver
''Hey! Pull it over. Right there - and wait!'' bellows a Boston police officer at a driver who has cleverly maneuvered his car at speed through a red light and a tangle of rush-hour pedestrians.
During the same signal sequence, two helmeted motorcycle patrolmen, staked out at opposite ends of the same intersection, wave over two equally surprised drivers.
This team is part of a 25-man special operation started last month by the Boston Police Department. The purpose is to improve public safety by cracking down on motorists who run red lights and stop signs, and by catching speeders and drunken drivers.
But Boston's drivers - some of whom are notorious for their recklessness - are not the only targets of this enforcement and reeducation drive.
Law enforcement officials across the United States have begun similar traffic safety programs - and are enjoying considerable success, according to Bryan Traynor, a highway management specialist with the National Highway Traffic Safety Association in Washington.
Mr. Traynor says police departments are identifying problem spots in their cities by examining accident data - provided either by computers or compiled statistics - as well as citizens' complaints voiced at community meetings.
Once specific areas have been designated, officials either deploy additional personnel (''if they can afford the luxury,'' Traynor says) or tell their regular officers what to look out for.
New York City, for example, began its Pedestrian Safety Program in August 1981 to try to reduce the number of pedestrian traffic accidents.
Officer George Bosko of the New York Police Department says the program was quite successful, but ran out of money last June. During the 10 months the program was operating, 20 officers stopped more than 97,000 motorists for various violations - some 38,000 for signal-light violations and about 34,000 for disobeying signs.
The program was restarted in November 1982, and already some 57,000 summonses have been handed out, he says.
The 20 traffic officers in New York's Pedestrian Safety Program and the 25 Boston traffic patrolmen are paid out of overtime funds from the city. But many other cities have taken advantage of federal funds from the Department of Transportation available specifically for traffic safety programs.
Part of the Highway Safety Act of 1966 provided for a highway safety representative in each state to allocate the federal money. A total of $95 million was appropriated in fiscal 1983 and distributed according to the population of each state.
California received some $7 million that now is being spent on nearly 125 traffic safety-related programs between San Diego and the Oregon border, says Marilyn Sabin, a regional coordinator in California's Office of Traffic Safety in Sacramento. Much of this went to small towns in need of sPJcial highway engineering or neg y z y such as motorcycles.
Los Angeles, however, received $1.8 million in federal money to set up a Multiphasic Accident Reduction System (MARS) program this spring. This involves 20 officers working overtime shifts and weekends to reduce particular traffic problems in four areas of the city.
While most violations are for speed, signal, left turn, and pedestrian violations, a Los Angeles Police Department spokesman says there is also a major effort to crack down on drunken driving. There is an educational side to MARS, which includes a program for children that uses ''Officer Bird'' (a macaw) to tach traffic safety.
This type of traffic safety program, combining education and enforcement, is the most effective, according to Miss Sabin, who teaches a course in traffic safety management at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, in addition to her Sacramento job. She says the course is designed to teach police officers in traffic safety how to apply for the federal mojey and to know a good proposal from a bad one.
The Wichita, Kan., police department has been applying for and receiving federal funds for traffic programs for several years. It received approximately
Last fall, the Wichita police began a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) program with eight civilian (semiprofessional) service officers and two vans equipped with sophisticated equipment to measure drivers' alcohol counts.
Maj. Earl Waffin says these mobile units have cut the time it takes to process drunken drivers from four hours to 35 minutes. The department arrested 495 people for driving under the influence in 1982. Major Waffin says since the program began in September, 600 people have been arrested for drunken driving, and he anticipates a total of 3,000 for the year. He also points out that each officer usually warns three out of every four stopped.
Waffin echoes other police departments in defending the new programs: ''It's not just for revenue. The accidents are down, and we can prove it with the statistics.''