Data-driven traffic patrol coming to Blaine

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The Blaine Police Department, with assistance from the Washington Traffic Safety Commission (WTSC), plans to use more data to target its traffic enforcement activities, in an effort reduce serious-injury and fatal crashes in the city.

In a joint presentation to Blaine city council, Blaine police chief Donnell Tanksley and WTSC manager Doug Dahl presented detailed statistics about crashes and traffic violations in Blaine and Whatcom County. The November 25 presentation was the start of an effort to make traffic enforcement in Blaine primarily data-driven, as opposed to being based just on officer discretion or citizen input.

“If you really want to see a strong impact in your enforcement efforts, data-driven is really an important factor,” Dahl told councilmembers. “Chief Tanksley is committed to investing in enforcement that’s connected with being data-driven.”

Dahl gave an example from his time as a traffic safety coordinator at the sheriff’s office. “We would track the top 10 collision roads in the county,” he said. “We would put those up on a board, and those would be the priority enforcement areas for the following year. Each year that we did that, we would see that there was a decrease in serious-injury crashes, fatal crashes and crashes overall.”

According to data presented at the council meeting, impaired driving is the leading factor involved in serious-injury and fatal crashes. It was a factor in half of the crashes in Washington state and Whatcom County from 2015 to 2017. Meanwhile, speeding was a factor in 29 percent of crashes statewide and 46 percent of crashes in Whatcom County. “Young drivers are also highly overrepresented in fatal crashes,” said Dahl.

Other leading factors include distraction and failure to wear seatbelts. Distracted driving in particular is underreported in collisions. “If you’re distracted, the only proof is if you admit it,” said Dahl. “We don’t have a breath test for distraction the way we do for DUI.”

In Blaine, high-crash areas include the truck route intersections at Boblett, H and D streets. The intersection of SR-543 and H Street sees a daily average of 14,000 vehicles, or more than 5.1 million vehicles per year. H Street approaching Peace Portal Drive is also a high-crash area. “Those are some of our primary corridors, so it makes sense that that’s where we’d see the most crashes,” said Dahl.

According to Tanksley, the Blaine Police Department made 3,031 traffic stops from January to mid-November 2019. Tanksley noted that the number of stops does not equate to the number of tickets written or the number of vehicles ticketed, and said that 1,301 warnings were given in 43 percent of those traffic stops.

Tanksley said the Blaine Police Department has issued 1,450 infractions, or non-criminal tickets, so far this year. Out of those 1,450 tickets, about 913, or 63 percent, were for speeding. In 863 instances, drivers were going 10 miles per hour or more over the legal speed limit, while in 35 cases, drivers were going 30 to 40 miles per hour over the speed limit. “We have a lot of people speeding here in Blaine,” said Tanksley.

Other infractions were for failure to stop at a stop sign or yield to pedestrians (71 tickets) and for operating a motor vehicle without insurance (112 tickets). On Peace Portal Drive from Bell Road to F Street, Blaine police wrote 441 infractions, about 30 percent of the 1,450 infractions so far this year. In downtown Blaine (400 to 900 Peace Portal Drive), there were 57 infractions, including 39 infractions for violations of the H Street stop sign.

On D Street, there were 198 infractions, including 174 for speeding; out of those 174 speeding infractions, 114 were for driving 15 miles per hour or more over the legal speed limit, and 32 were for driving 20 miles per hour or more over the speed limit. “We’ve written tickets for 30 miles over the speed limit, 35, 40,” said Tanksley. “Just a week and a half ago, we wrote a ticket right on I-5 for 50 miles over the speed limit. This is serious business.”

With the high rate of speeding in Blaine, crashes have inevitably resulted. From 2015 to 2019, there has been a fatality in Blaine every year with the exception of 2016, when there were 48 non-fatal crashes. This year, there have been 37 crashes so far, including a fatal crash on November 14 on northbound I-5’s D Street overpass. “One accident is too many, one fatality is too many, one person injured is too many,” said Tanksley. “Our goal is to be fair and impartial and try to educate the public on the importance of adhering to the speed limits, the stop signs and the pedestrian crossings.”

In the future, the Blaine Police Department plans to work more with WTSC and its Target Zero program, which aims to end traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. Recently, the city of Blaine also installed new radar speed signs on D Street and Mitchell Avenue. The signs, which cost the city about $5,000 each, already appear to be working. “We’re actually writing less tickets in the last two weeks,” said Tanksley. “We’re deployed at different times of the day and the night, and so far, especially on D Street, it seems to be working. That’s something we’ll have to watch. It may ebb and flow, and we’ll deploy as necessary.”

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