Moving, moving, moving

Technology helps officers keep traffic moving in New York City

     To efficiently and accurately write these tickets, the NYPD's 2,327 traffic agents and 371 traffic supervisors use Holtsville, New York-based Symbol Technologies' handheld devices to issue parking citations. Deputy Inspector Michael Pilecki says the percentage of tickets invalidated in the courts because of errors in writing has been lowered to less than 2 percent with these devices. "This means our agents are issuing accurate tickets, and the city is receiving maximum revenue," he says.

Enforcing traffic law
     A host of violations are given particular emphasis on the city's congested roadways, which draws 267,186 commuters from across the region to Manhattan's Central Business Districts each weekday. Among the violations officers focus on are double parking, tailgating, red light running, frequent lane changes and aggressive driving because these infractions cause the majority of accidents involving injury or fatalities.

     In the last three years, three pedestrians were killed crossing near a double parked car. "If those cars were not double parked, those people wouldn't have died," Scagnelli states.

     "Nobody likes getting a ticket. But impeding traffic in NYC is surely going to get you one," he adds. "We don't just move along double-parkers, we ticket or tow them. If the only consequence is to have a traffic agent tell them to move along, what's the incentive not to do it again the next day? If they get a $115 ticket or have to pick up their car in impound, it gets their attention."

     Officers also pay attention to dark tinted windows, which are illegal in New York. These windows are dangerous because they reduce the visibility of drivers -- motorists can't see pedestrians or oncoming cars under certain situations. And it's dangerous for police approaching these vehicles because they can't see inside. On July 9, 2007, Officer Russel Timoshenko and his partner Officer Herman Yan were shot while making a traffic stop on a stolen SUV with dark tinted windows. Timoshenko died 5 days later. Yan's bullet-resistant vest saved him.

     Drunk driving also receives significant attention. "Drunk drivers kill themselves and they kill innocent people," Scagnelli explains. "We have great new laws in New York State that deal with drunk drivers, and our five district attorneys provide effective prosecution. Officers are trained to identify and arrest drunk drivers. Drunk drivers are not always speeding, sometimes they're the ones driving the slowest. We're on track to arrest 11,000 drunk drivers this year; if that happens, it will be another record."

     And because speed kills, officers patrol the arterial highways in NYC looking for drivers dangerously exceeding the speed limit as well as tailgating. (A tailgater is a speeder who can't speed because there's too much traffic.) Highway units use radar and lidar (light detection and ranging) technology to catch these speeders. Lidar is more accurate than radar and can be used to detect individual cars speeding within a group of cars.

     And because ticketing speeders on NYC highways is risky business, all highway patrol cars are equipped with video cameras. Outfitting the entire NYPD fleet of more than 6,000 marked vehicles with video cameras is also under consideration. Inspector Richard Graf, commanding officer of the NYPD highway patrol unit, says the cameras are invaluable in documenting a traffic stop. "More officers are hurt in traffic-related incidents than anything else," he explains. "Traffic stops are extremely dangerous even if there is no criminal intent on the part of the stopped driver. Every time an officer is near fast-moving traffic, and out of his or her vehicle, there is potential for injury."

     Special attention is paid to motorcycle operators in NYC, and with good reason -- 21 of 30 people killed on motorcycles were driving without a motorcycle license. Officers also hone in on drunken driving and seat belt violations.

     "Federal initiatives for DWI and seat belt enforcement are great tools for public awareness. The NYPD fully participates and consistently issues significant numbers of seat belt citations and makes substantial DWI arrests -- always among the top-producing agencies in the country," Scagnelli says.

     Drivers are constantly reminded how dangerous it is for passengers in the backseat to ride without their seat belts fastened. "I've seen passengers not wearing seat belts in the backseat ejected from the vehicle and killed while restrained passengers in the front survived unharmed," Scagnelli comments.

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