Police watch highway closely

Last year, Oak Harbor police responded to the fewest number of reportable accidents within the city in at least the last decade.

Nevertheless, the department will be conducting a special “traffic safety emphasis” over the next few months, focusing on Highway 20 in the city. Drivers can expect to see more cops on the state route, pulling cars over and issuing more warnings and especially tickets.

“The officers are really going to be aggressive on the highway,” Lt. John Dyer said. “When infractions increase, accidents do decrease.”

The reason for the focus, Dyer said, is that nearly half of 232 reportable accidents last year occurred on the highway, especially at or near intersections. Eleven accidents occurred at the intersection of the highway and E. Whidbey Avenue, 10 happened at the intersection with Barrington Drive and nine took place at the intersection with SW Erie Street.

In comparison, police responded to 369 reportable accidents in 2006, according to the department’s annual report for that year. The previous lowest number of accidents in the last decade was 241 in 1999, while the most was 398 in 2002.

While accidents in Oak Harbor are usually not as serious as accidents in the county, where the speed limit is greater, Dyer said the accidents with the most injuries and property damage in the city tend to occur on Highway 20. He points out that speeds increase to 40 miles per hour on the highway in the area of Cabot Drive.

The 2007 statistics also show that 67 percent of the accidents in the city were related to speed, failure to yield right-of-way, and inattention.

In addition to pulling people over, Dyer said the department will make an attempt to educate drivers, especially regarding the rules specific to certain trouble spots. For example, drivers on the disappearing lane on the highway at SW Erie Street near Wal-Mart must yield to cars in the other lane.

“Most people are law abiding, they just need to be reminded of what the rules are,” Dyer said.

The Oak Harbor Police Department’s two-man, motorcycle-riding traffic unit will head up the emphasis, Dyer said, while the patrol officers will patrol the highway when they have time. In emphasizing traffic enforcement, the police are joining the Island County Sheriff’s Office and State Patrol in focusing on the roads. The three departments reduced the number of serious accidents last year by patrolling aggressively.

“We’ve been giving out a lot of warnings in the last year,” said Officer Tony Slowik. “We’ve going to be less tolerant of aggressive driving this year.”

That may translate into more tickets for some, but safer roads for the rest.

You can reach News-Times reporter Jessie Stensland at jstensland@whidbeynews or call 675-6611.