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More enforcement, fewer wrecks on Highway 20 in Oak Harbor

Oak Harbor Police Officer Serloyd Carter patrols for speeders on Highway 20.  - Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times
Oak Harbor Police Officer Serloyd Carter patrols for speeders on Highway 20.
— image credit: Jessie Stensland/Whidbey News-Times

If you are going to get into a car accident in Oak Harbor, there’s a good chance it will happen on Highway 20 on a Tuesday between the hours of noon and 6 p.m.

Oak Harbor Police Lt. John Dyer, who’s in charge of the patrol division, studies statistics in order to maximize the efficiency of traffic enforcement. He’s found a five-year decline in collisions, which suggests patrols may be working, and he plans to continue efforts to focus on highway traffic.

“We hope there is a correlation between enforcement and a reduction of accidents,” he said. “Making our roads safer is what we are trying to do.”

In 2010, there were 202 accidents reported in the city. That was down from 272 in 2009 and reflects a five-year decrease.

The number of DUI arrests also continue to drop, from 180 arrests in 2000 to 81 in 2010.

Dyer said statistics show that 45 percent of collisions last year occurred on Highway 20. Tuesday had the most accidents, while Saturday had the fewest. About 70 percent of accidents occurred between noon and 6 p.m.

The four most common causes of accidents on Highway 20, Dyer said, were inattention, failure to grant right of way, following too closely and speed.

While most of the officers do some traffic patrol, Dyer said an important element of the department’s success is the dedicated traffic officer position, which was first instituted in 1986. Currently, Serloyd Carter fills the position as an officer solely assigned to traffic issues. He can often be seen patrolling on his motorcycle — when the weather is right — and also gives presentations at the Navy base, driving schools and other places about safe driving and the impact of impaired driving.

Dyer said the officers will continue the emphasis on Highway 20, as well as schools zones, but he stressed that they don’t work on a quota system, nor does the department benefit financially from handing out tickets.

In fact, the officers only ticket drivers in about 22 percent of traffic stops. In 2010, Oak Harbor police officers made 9,176 traffic stops, but handed out only 1,977 citations. The rest resulted in either written or verbal warnings.

“We have a range of tools for modifying people’s driving behaviors,” he said. “The goal is to make the roads as safe as possible.”

 

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