Cedar Rapids is increasing traffic patrols this week, as part of the statewide special Traffic Enforcement Program (sTEP). The Cedar Rapids Police Department is one of approximately 170 law enforcement agencies around the state, according to Pat Hoye of the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau (GTSB).
“Seat belt use and impaired driving are the focus during this holiday period,” said Hoye, the GTSB bureau chief.
The Nov. 19 to 26 enforcement increase is the fifth and final sTEP period this year. The program was also in effect during selected weeks in March, May, July and August.
Participating agencies can apply to the GTSB for funds to cover the overtime pay for the extra officers on patrol.
“We use federal dollars to provide law enforcement agencies with the ability to put additional officers out,” Hoye said. “One of the things that we have found that’s worked in the past is what we call ‘high-visibility enforcement.’ People tend to change driving behavior, when they see an increased law enforcement presence.”
Hoye said he hopes that an increase in buckling up will be part of that changed behavior.
“It’s the simplest thing you can do to protect yourself in a car, yet about half the traffic fatalities in Iowa each year are unbuckled,” Hoye said.
According to Iowa Department of Transportation statistics, there were 356 crashes involving fatalities in 2016, resulting in a total of 404 deaths. That was an increase from 2015, when 320 people were killed in 282 fatal crashes.
“So far in 2017, Cedar Rapids officers have issued 39 citations for not wearing a seat belt,” said Greg Buelow, public safety communications coordinator for Cedar Rapids. “That might not seem like a whole lot, but typically those are written in conjunction with some other violation. This [program] allows the officers to concentrate enforcement on seat belt usage.”
Although drivers might suspect that increasing traffic patrol during one of the busiest travel weeks of the year is just a way for police departments to generate more ticket revenue, Hoye said that’s not the case.
“Enforcement is important, but raising public awareness is even more important,” he said. “This is a high crash time, and people need to be aware and take extra care when traveling.”