Traffic Safety Team

Teaming Up For Traffic Safety

Public Works, in collaboration with the Sheriff's Office, has embarked on a traffic safety program geared to enhance traffic law enforcement on Chelan County roads.

The Three Es of Traffic Safety

Traffic safety improvements generally involve what are known as The Three Es:

  • Engineering
  • Education
  • Enforcement

The primary goal of the program is to reduce traffic accidents through the use of traffic law enforcement and public outreach/education. More than half of all vehicle accidents in Chelan County are related to excessive speed and driver non-compliance with the rules of the road. In these situations, engineering a solution to a frequent accident location can cost millions of dollars without truly addressing the problem. By increasing law enforcement presence and targeting problem areas, safety can be improved without the high cost of roadway reconstruction and property impacts. Similar programs have been implemented in other Washington counties with good success; in nearby Grant County, a countywide reduction in vehicle accidents of over 40 percent was realized within the first few years of starting a traffic enforcement program. Similar results are expected in Chelan County.

Frequently Asked Questions

Isn’t this program primarily intended to raise general fund revenue for the County?

No. The primary goal of the program is to improve county road safety and reduce vehicle accidents. The county funds generated through traffic citations are dedicated to a special Traffic Safety Fund, which can only be used to pay for the costs of the program itself or other roadway safety enhancements. Any revenue generated in excess of that needed to fund the program will be used by Public Works to make safety improvements to county roads, such as additional signage, guardrail or other safety projects. Traffic Safety Fund revenue cannot be used for any other purpose and is managed by the County Engineer

Aren’t Traffic Enforcement Unit deputies going to write tickets for any infraction, no matter how minor, to generate revenue?

No. The primary goal of traffic enforcement is to gain compliance with traffic laws; that doesn’t always mean writing a ticket. Typical “ticket ratios” (i.e., the percentage of traffic stops where tickets are actually issued to the offending driver) for these deputies are about 40 percent. That means that in 10 traffic stops deputies generally write only four tickets. Warnings can be just as effective in achieving compliance, depending on the driver and the situation. The decision to issue a ticket is solely the discretion of the deputy making the traffic stop.

Why is Public Works funding this program? Shouldn’t they spend their money on roads instead of giving it to the Sheriff’s Office?

Road safety is the joint responsibility of both agencies. In most situations where accidents occur, the contributing factors leading to the accident involve not obeying traffic laws (most commonly traveling too fast for road conditions). Improving road conditions (widening lanes, flattening curves, etc.) can be extremely expensive. Usually, if motorists are driving safely and obeying traffic laws, these accidents could be avoided. Enforcement is a critical component of a safe county road system and costs much less than expensive engineering fixes to gain the same result.

Is this program all about writing traffic tickets?

Not at all. Education will also be a major component of the program. Traffic Safety Unit deputies will be spending time visiting local schools and being involved at community events with Public Works to provide public outreach and education on the merits of safe driving. Preventative measures such as these go a long way toward achieving safe driver behavior, especially with younger drivers. Issuing warnings to drivers is also effective in changing behavior, for most drivers.

If people are driving too fast, why not just lower the speed limit to slow them down?

Speed limits have little effect on driver behavior without someone there to enforce them. Although it may seem intuitive that speeders only go a certain speed over a posted speed limit, that doesn't actually prove to be the case. Decades of experience and transportation studies have shown most drivers drive at the speed they are comfortable at, regardless of posted speed limits. So if 15 percent of drivers on a particular street are speeding when it’s posted at 35 MPH, lowering the speed to 25 MPH will just result in more speeders. Most speed limits are set based on the observed speeds of 85 percent of all drivers on that road – when other factors necessitate posting a lower speed (such as school zones, residential areas or areas with a large amount of pedestrians) the only way to gain compliance is through active traffic enforcement.