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Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - September 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk Count
y Publishing Company

Traffic deaths down, grant program out

Polk County Enterprise - September 2009
BY VALERIE REDDELL, Editor, polknews@gmail.com

LIVINGSTON — At the end of the month, Texas motorists can say “adios” to a program that many law enforcement officers credit with reducing traffic deaths. While Polk County Sheriff’s Office participated in the state-funded Selective Traffic Enforcement Program (STEP) in 2008 and 2009, the number of fatalities in car crashes dropped from 32 to 15 a year. PCSO’s patrol division used the grant funds to put an additional officer on the street every day in areas that saw the greatest number of wrecks that caused serious injuries or death. Deputies volunteered to work overtime shifts focused on seat belt and child safety seat enforcement, speeders and drunk drivers. The Texas Department of Transportation reimbursed the county for the overtime pay and mileage on county-owned vehicles. On paper it sure looked like a win-win situation, but when participating entities applied for another year of grant funds, virtually none of the programs were extended. “The grant funds dried up,” Polk County Sheriff Kenneth Hammack said.

“It was good for the guys here in the county and it was good for the motoring public, particularly in the Goodrich area and on Highway 190.” “That’s eight hours a day that somebody’s not going to be out there,” Hammack added. The Texas Department of Public Safety Highway patrol officers assigned to Polk County will continue to work their extra STEP shifts, according to Hammack, who is a former Texas Ranger and spent time as a highway patrolman for DPS. According to reports compiled by TxDOT, 32 people died in crashes in Polk County in 2007; up from 25 in 2006 and 10 in 2005. Polk County obtained its first round of STEP funds in 2008 and the number of fatalities dropped to 15. There have been another 15 killed in 2009 as of Sept. 1. An additional death occurred here last week. Reports show the number of incapacitating injuries went from 66 in 2007 to 82 in 2008. So far in 2009, 52 incapacitating injuries have been reported. In 2007, eight of the deaths occurred in the Goodrich area on or near U.S. 59; four were on Texas 146; three in the City of Livingston; three along the Scenic Loop (FM 3277 and 3126); two on FM 350; two on U.S. 190 West; two in northern Polk County near Corrigan; two on U.S. 190 East near the Alabama Coushatta Indian Reservation; one on FM 1988 and one on a rural roadway. STEP patrols were focused initially on the Goodrich area; the U.S. 190 West/Scenic Loop area and U.S. 190 north between Leggett and Corrigan.

Data reports from 2008 show traffic fatalities on U.S. 59 near Goodrich dropped to two. Three deaths were in the City of Livingston; three others in northern Polk County; two on U.S. 190 East, two on U.S. 190 West; two in the Scenic Loop area and one on Texas 146. So far in 2009, three fatalities have occurred in the Goodrich area; four in north Polk County; three on U.S. 190 West; one on the Scenic Loop; two in Livingston; one on U.S. 190 East and one rural fatality. Law enforcement officers across the U.S. and Canada reported positive benefits from STEP with seat belt use jumping by about 20 percent in Quebec, Canada when STEP programs were launched in 1986. In Saskatchewan seat belt use went from 59 percent in 1986 to 90 percent in 2000. The number of fatal crashes involving alcohol went from 35 to 50 percent in that province to 28.5 percent. TxDOT statistics show that drivers had been drinking alcohol in 115 fatal crashes in rural Texas counties in 2008. Speeding was a contributing factor in 215 fatal crashes in rural areas and unsafe speed was reported in 333 fatal crashes. Those crashes may have resulted in the death of more than one person. TxDOT public information officers did not return calls seeking comment Friday.

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