According to a recent report in the Chattanooga Times Free Press, the number of traffic citations issued to Hamilton County drivers decreased for the 5th year in a row in 2017. For example, in 2012, police officers in Chattanooga wrote 6,776 tickets for speeding and 1,653 tickets for seatbelt violations. In 2017, officers only wrote 2,119 speeding tickets and 378 seatbelt violation tickets. On a similar note, tickets for red light violations dropped from 668 to 280.
With tickets going down, that must mean more people are choosing to follow the rules of the road, right? Not so fast. The Chattanooga Police Department has provided several reasons why traffic citations are declining in the area. The first concerns officer discretion. A supervisor of the Chattanooga Police Department’s traffic division stated police officers have discretion when it comes to issuing tickets and citations. For example, if an officer pulls someone over for speeding, he or she can issue a verbal warning instead of writing a ticket. Since the police department wants to always encourage safe driving, some officers believe that having a conversation with the offender and providing a verbal warning can do more to prevent violations in the future than writing that person up with a citation.
Police attrition may also be linked to less tickets being issued. Losing officers has been a problem for many municipal police departments over the year, and the issue is no stranger to Chattanooga. According to the Chattanooga Police Department, between three and four police officers leave the department each month, on average, with some being transferred to new divisions and others leaving the force altogether.
Despite tickets going down, the number of annual auto accidents in Chattanooga has remained fairly consistent. In 2012, for instance, there were 12,847 wrecks in the county. In 2016, 12,582 crashes were reported. To ultimately reduce the rate of crashes, driver education remains key. Drivers first must be aware of types of conduct that typically give rise to accidents, including texting while driving, drunk driving, speeding, running stop signs, making improper turns, and not maintaining a safe lookout. Drivers should also be aware that even if a specific law is not violated, they can still be held responsible for a crash and the resulting damages if their conduct is considered negligent, which legally means that it falls below the standard of care owed to someone else.
While law enforcement agencies state that citations often play a large role in enforcing laws and serve as a deterrent from breaking them, the number of tickets issued does not tell the whole story as to whether our roads are becoming safer. The truth is that many violations either go unnoticed or unreported. When drivers truly do begin to make more of an effort to follow driving laws, accidents should decrease, and the crash statistics will prove it.
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