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Traffic Safety and Traffic Enforcement
in the City of Sacramento.

Timothy Davis

05/03/01

The City of Sacramento has the most dangerous roads out of California major cities. While the rest of the state has seen a dramatic decrease in fatal and injury collisions, the City of Sacramento's rate has continued to remain the highest in the state. The major causes of collisions are speed, right of way violations, stop sign and signal violations, improper turning and DUI. Effective traffic enforcement in these areas could reduce collision rates in Sacramento. The Sacramento Police Department is unable to provide effective traffic enforcement due to understaffing. The Traffic Unit of the Sacramento Police department is operating at 39% staffing. Patrol staffing is at a critically low level and is unable to support the Traffic Unit in effective traffic enforcement.

In California, traffic statistics are collected by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) in a system called the "Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System" (SWITRS). The California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) uses the numbers generated by SWITRS and generates its own statistics and comparisons regarding traffic safety in California. CHP (with SWITRS) and OTS divides their numbers based on law enforcement jurisdictions. Thus, the collision rates of Sacramento used in this document are lower than actual due to the non-inclusion of freeway collision statistics.

Office of Traffic Safety Rankings 1996 and 1999
Highest Rate of Fatal and Injury Collisions per Capita for California's Cities over 250,000

California's Cities over 250,000 Pop. (1996)
Highest Fatal & Injury Collisions per Capita (1)

1) Sacramento 765 per 100,000 (2)

2) Anaheim 681 per 100,000

3) Los Angeles 630 per 100,000

4) San Francisco 613 per 100,000

5) San Jose 499 per 100,000

6) Fresno 482 per 100,000

7) San Diego 482 per 100,000

8) Long Beach 461 per 100,000

9) Santa Anna 443 per 100,000

10) Oakland 386 per 100,000

*State Average 609 per 100,000 (3)

California's Cities over 250,000 Pop. (1999)
Highest Fatal & Injury Collisions per Capita (4)

1) Sacramento 719 per 100,000 (5)

2) Anaheim

3) Los Angeles

4) San Francisco

5) Riverside

6) Santa Anna

7) San Jose

8) San Diego

9) Fresno

10) Long Beach

*State Average 564 per 100,000 (6)

 

California State Office of Traffic Safety Ranking for Sacramento 1996-1999 by Population
(compared against cities with populations more than 250,000)
(7)

 

1996

1997

1998

1999

Total Fatal & Injury

1st

1st

1st

1st

Alcohol Related

3rd

1st

1st

3rd

Speed Related

2nd

2nd

2nd

1st

Nighttime

3rd

2nd

2nd

3rd

Hit and Run

2nd

2nd

3rd

3rd

HBD Driver under 21

1st

1st

5th

7th

HBD Driver 21-34

7th

5th

6th

6th

Bicyclist Killed or Injured

1st

1st

1st

1st

Bicyclist Killed or Injured under 15

1st

1st

2nd

3rd

(A rating of "1" indicates that Sacramento had the highest rate per capita in that category compared against the other cities in California with populations more than 250,000.)

From 1989 to 1998 the State of California saw a dramatic decrease in both fatal and injury vehicle collisions despite an increase in populations over the same period. From 1989 to 1998 the number of fatal collisions in California dropped 36.4% from 4,834 in 1989 to 3,075 in 1998. Likewise injury collisions in California dropped 20.2% over the same period from 236,831 in 1989 to 189,007 in 1998 (8). Despite statewide drops in collision rates, Sacramento continues to be ranked the worst large city in many collision-related categories including injury and fatal collision as well as in the composite category which takes into account the city's ranking in several categories. It is time for the City of Sacramento and the Sacramento Police Department to take drastic action to stop the death and injuries of its citizens in vehicle collisions

Causes of Collisions

Statewide in 1998 the five most common violation types that led to injury collisions were: (9)

1)Unsafe Speed - 53,134

2)Right of Way Violation (Auto) - 34,494

3)Stop Sign / Traffic Signal - 17,561

4)Improper Turning - 17,343

5)DUI - 15,303

Statewide in 1998 the five most common violation types that led to fatal collisions were: (10)

1)DUI - 785

2)Improper Turning - 395

3)Unsafe Speed - 350

4)Right of Way Violation (by Pedestrian) - 317

5)Right of Way Violation (by Auto) - 239

Addressing Collision Factors

Effective traffic enforcement can help reduce the rates of fatal and injury collisions. In the City of Sacramento traffic enforcement should be directed toward areas of need. These areas can be determined based on the major causes of collisions. Statewide, DUI is the leading cause of fatal collisions, yet the Sacramento Police department does not have even one officer devoted to the enforcement of drunk driving laws.

"In 1999 'speed' was the Primary Collision Factor (PCF) in 27 percent of all fatal and injury collisions (in California). As the speed of the vehicle increases, so does the probability of injuries and death if the vehicle is involved in a collision. Speed continues to be a major problem on California roadways . . . " (11) Speed laws are typically enforced through the use of radar. While the city is currently seeking grant moneys to purchase new radar equipment, I have yet to see any results. Radar units at the department are in short supply. Those that exist are Kustom Signals handheld "Falcon" model and were manufactured in the early 1980's and are in poor condition. The department is not currently using moving radar units. The Sacramento Police Department has taken an important step in dealing with the issue of speed enforcement. In March and April S.P.D. offered two radar operator courses. Unfortunately the department was unable to issue radar units to most of the new officers who took this course due to lack of supply. Also, officers assigned to Patrol have little, if any time to conduct radar speed enforcement due to a critically low staffing level of patrol officers.

SWITRS data can be used to determine the most dangerous streets and the most dangerous intersections in Sacramento. By using this data a well-staffed traffic unit could focus its attention in those areas by enforcing stop sign violations, red light violations and right of way violations. A focus on areas of high pedestrian fatal and injury collision could result in increased enforcement of pedestrian issues such as J-walking and cross walk right of way violations. To conduct these types of enforcement, staffing of the Traffic Unit must be increased.

There are many drivers on our roadways who never had a driver's licence or who have had their driving privileges suspended. "Suspended or revoked drivers were involved in four times more fatal and six times more injury crashes than licensed drivers. Further, these drivers experienced 11 times more DUI convictions as licensed drivers." (12) In 1997 DMV released a study on the effects of impounding vehicles of unlicenced and suspended drivers. "The study found that first-time and repeated offenders with impounded vehicles had significantly fewer drivers license convictions, fewer subsequent total traffic convictions, and fewer subsequent collisions, than drivers whose vehicles were not impounded." (13) The California Vehicle Code (14602.6(a) CVC) gives peace officers the right to impound a driver's vehicle for thirty (30) days if they are found to be driving with a suspended driver's licence or if they never have been issued a licence. This is a powerful tool in preventing repeated offenders. In addition "a 1990 DMV study reports that, of divers with a suspended or revoked licence, 33 percent had a criminal record and 85 percent of those drivers used their automobile in the commission of a crime." (14) Impounding the vehicles of suspended and unlicenced drivers will decrease the rate of collisions and remove a needed instrument for the commission of crime. Unfortunately patrol officers who do find the time to conduct a traffic stop do not have the time to tow the vehicle. By increasing the staffing level of Community Service Officers (CSO's) in patrol would help assist officers in towing cars, alleviating the need of a patrol officer to stand by for a tow truck response, a response that can add 30-45 minutes to the length of a traffic stop.

Understaffing in the Traffic Unit

The Sacramento Police Department has 13 active officers assigned to traffic enforcement duties. "In the early 1970's the Traffic Section had ninety-three men . . . " (15) On 04/25/01 a department spokesperson stated "we're about 20 officers short on traffic." (16) A 20 officer shortage indicates that the department is running the Traffic Unit at only a 39% staffing level. While the department has stated that the traffic division is understaffed, the department has yet to being accepting applications for transfers into the Traffic Unit.

A survey of other agencies indicates that they take traffic enforcement much more seriously. The City of Santa Ana in Orange County has a population of only 317,000, (17) or 78% of the size of Sacramento. In 1998 they had a traffic detail of 21 motors, four officers, and two DUI officers. (18) Despite being a smaller department their staffing level is 208% of Sacramento's. This staffing level can be reflected in a low fatal and collision rate. In 1996 Santa Ana had the second lowest rate of California's major cities. (19)

Increasing staffing in traffic would help decrease the burden in patrol. Traffic officers have the responsibility of investigating injury collisions in the City of Sacramento. Since there are only 13 traffic officers, generally patrol officers are forced to handle the investigation of collisions. In addition to increasing the staffing within the Traffic Unit, traffic officers should receive additional training in traffic collision investigation. The California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) certifies both intermediate and advanced traffic collision investigation courses along with several specialty courses in areas such as skid-mark analysis and collision reconstruction. These courses if offered could increase the knowledge and expertise of the officers assigned to the Traffic Unit. The department is not currently offering these courses to its officers.

Cost of Collisions vs. Cost of Staffing

Traffic collisions cost the community millions of dollars a year. Increasing staffing levels would be much more cost effective. Fatal and injury collisions require the response of multiple police and fire department personnel and tow trucks. Collisions cause traffic delays to other motorist. Collisions damage vehicles and private property. Collisions necessitate the use of medical personnel at local hospitals including the E.R. and possibly I.C.U. care. Collisions cause the loss of work time and often result in law suits. By spending money on increasing traffic staffing the city will save the community millions of dollars in the long run. The annual salary for one new police officer is $36,462 (20). The estimated cost of outfitting one new motor officer (includes motorcycle, radar, and equipment) is $40,000.

Average Costs per Injury by Type for 1998 Collisions (21)

Killed $2,792,000

Severe Injury $193,000

Other Visible Injury $39,000

Complaint of Pain $20,000

Property Damage Only $2,000

Costs Estimates per Injury by Type for 1998 Collisions, City of Sacramento (22)

Killed $2,792,000 x 15 = $41,880,000

Severe Injury $193,000 x 96 = $18,528,000

Other Visible Injury $39,000 x 981 = $38,259,000

Complaint of Pain $20,000 x 3235 = $64,700,000

Property Damage Only (23) $2,000 x 1417 = $2,834,000

Total $166,201,000

Costs Estimates per Injury by Type for 1999 Collisions, City of Sacramento (24)

Killed $2,792,000 x 26 = $72,920,000

Severe Injury $193,000 x 113 = $21,809,000

Other Visible Injury $39,000 x 994 = $38,766,000

Complaint of Pain $20,000 x 3405 = $68,100,000

Property Damage Only (25) $2,000 x 1385 = $2,770,000

Total $204,365,000

Conclusion

Sacramento's fatal and injury collision rates are appalling yet the City of Sacramento and the Sacramento Police Department continues to show indifference. Understaffing in the Traffic Unit is preventing officers from effective addressing the collision rate. Collision rates could be lowered by increasing traffic staffing and conducting concentrated traffic enforcement. Traffic enforcement is much cheaper than the costs of collisions. If the City of Sacramento truly believes in protecting its citizens then it will rapidly address staffing issues in Traffic. Moving officers from Patrol to Traffic will not solve the problem because of major staffing issues in Patrol. The department must hire new officers. The department is having difficulty hiring new applicants due to entry level pay issues and officer moral issues. It is time that the department and the city look at the whole picture. The city must present a fair and competitive contract to the Sacramento Police Officers Association. The city must conduct an aggressive hiring campaign. Finally the city must fully staff critical units such as the Traffic Unit and Patrol. Once appropriate staffing levels are met, the officers of the Sacramento Police Department can address traffic issues and begin the reduction of the collision rate in the City of Sacramento.

Sources and End Notes

1. California Office of Traffic Safety. Rankings 1996

2. California Office of Traffic Safety Database collision numbers and population numbers from California State Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit. Historical City/County Population Estimates, 1991-2000, with 1990 Census Counts

3. California Highway Patrol. 1998 Annual Report of Fatal and Injury Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions, pg. 2-4

4. California Office of Traffic Safety. 1999 Ten Worst Cities in Population Categories A Thru F (Population)

5. California Office of Traffic Safety. Rankings 1998

6. California Highway Patrol. 1999 Annual Report of Fatal and Injury Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions, pg. 2-4

7. California Office of Traffic Safety. Rankings 1996, Rankings 1997, Rankings 1998, Rankings 1999

8. California Highway Patrol. 1998 Annual Report of Fatal and Injury Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions, pg. 2-4

9. California Highway Patrol. 1998 Annual Report of Fatal and Injury Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions, pg. 46.

10. California Highway Patrol. 1998 Annual Report of Fatal and Injury Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions, pg. 46

11. California Office of Traffic Safety. Annual Progress Report Federal Fiscal Year 2000, pg. 26

12. California Office of Traffic Safety. Annual Progress Report Federal Fiscal Year 2000, pg. 26

13. California Office of Traffic Safety. Annual Progress Report Federal Fiscal Year 2000, pg. 27

14. California Office of Traffic Safety. Annual Progress Report Federal Fiscal Year 2000, pg. 26

15. Sacramento Police Officers Association, Sacramento Police Department 1849-1983, pg.150

16. Graswich, R.E. column. The Sacramento Bee, 25 April 2001, pg. B-1

17. California State Department of Finance Demographic Research Unit. Historical City/County Population Estimates, 1991-2000, with 1990 Census Counts

18. The City of Santa Ana Police Department, Traffic Section Web Site (http://www.ci.santa-ana.ca.us/departments/police/traffic.htm)

19. California Office of Traffic Safety. Rankings 1996

20. Based on the current starting hourly rate of 17.53/hr assuming 40 hrs a week for 52 weeks a year.

21. California Highway Patrol. 1998 Annual Report of Fatal and Injury Motor Vehicle Traffic Collisions, pg. 47

22. California Highway Patrol. SWITRS Report 1. Motor Vehicle Involved With for Collisions and Victims by Severity NCIC CA3404 01/01/1998-12/31/1998

23. Only 1417 P.D.O. collisions were reported due to a "minimum reporting standard" The actual number of property damage collisions is much higher.

24. California Highway Patrol. SWITRS Report 1. Motor Vehicle Involved With for Collisions and Victims by Severity NCIC CA3404 01/01/1999-12/31/1999

25. Only 1385 P.D.O. collisions were reported due to a "minimum reporting standard" The actual number of property damage collisions is much higher.

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