Traffic safety grants awarded to curb reckless driving

INDIANAPOLIS — The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute awarded $6.5 million in traffic safety grants to more than 200 police departments throughout the state. Decatur County Sheriff’s Department received $32,450 and Greensburg Police $5000. The departments will use the funds to conduct overtime patrols and carry out strategies to address reckless driving in Indiana.

Nationwide, last year saw a drastic increase in the number of traffic fatalities, despite having fewer drivers on the road. Tragically, 2021 is shaping up to be even worse, according to a report just released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the first half of 2021, an estimated 20,160 people died in traffic crashes across the U.S., which is 3,140 more or an 18.4 percent increase compared to the same time last year. According to NHTSA, that’s the largest six-month increase ever recorded in the reporting system’s history.

In Indiana, traffic fatalities remain high and continue to exceed pre-pandemic levels. As of early October, a total of 683 people have been killed in crashes, preliminary data shows. Although this is around the same rate as in 2020, it represents a marked increase (8 percent) from 2019.

If the pace continues and with the holiday travel season ahead, Indiana could surpass 900 traffic fatalities by the end of the year – one of the highest in the past decade.

“This should be a wake-up call for everyone in Indiana,” said Devon McDonald, ICJI Executive Director. “Lives are being lost at an alarming rate because people are choosing to speed and ignore the rules of the road. The reckless driving has to stop. Enough is enough.”

Early estimates from NHTSA and the criminal justice institute suggest that many of the same risky driving behaviors that contributed to 2020 being one of the deadliest years on record continue to persist. Those are higher average speeds in conjunction with declining seat belt use and driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Robert Duckworth, ICJI Traffic Safety Director, said that most traffic fatalities, if not all, are preventable.

“Every driver needs to examine the choices they are making and commit to safe driving before they get behind the wheel,” Duckworth said. “We could put a stop to this crisis today if everyone chose to slow down, drive sober, wear a seat belt and pay attention to the road.”

To address reckless driving, departments will use the funding to conduct “zero tolerance” overtime patrols and sobriety checkpoints, most of which will take place during dedicated enforcement periods throughout the year. The first one, starting in the next couple of weeks, is the Safe Family Travel campaign designed to cut down on impaired driving and promote seat belt use during the holiday season.

As part of a new initiative, several departments received funding this year to deploy visible speed enforcement teams in an effort to reduce speed-related fatalities and collisions. With multiple officers working together, this strategy involves using a police “spotter” or stationary officer watching for violations who can radio to their partner if speeding is detected.

“High-visibility enforcement works,” McDonald said. “People are less likely to speed and drive dangerously when law enforcement is present.”

The grants were awarded in October using federal NHTSA funds. This year, the largest awards went to the Indiana State Police at $1 million and the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department at $1.5 million, as urban areas like Marion County have experienced the largest increase in fatal crashes this year.

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