It was a scene Trooper James Oxier wasn’t sure he’d encountered before in eight years with the Washington State Patrol: a white Chevy Equinox at the intersection of Sedgwick Road and the Highway 16 off-ramp sat through an entire green light without moving.
Oxier discovered the culprit after pulling the car over — the driver had been looking at a cellphone. While no one was hurt, the violation was enough for the trooper to write the driver a ticket.
The traffic stop was one of eight Oxier made during a four-hour period Feb. 13 as part of a special traffic emphasis conducted by Washington State Patrol and local law enforcement.
HIVE — or “High Visibility Enforcement” — patrols are intended to cut down on the types of driving behaviors that can lead to crashes and deaths, including cellphone use and distracted driving. Usually, they focus on certain areas of the county known for a high volume of collisions.
“What we’re hoping to do is gain the voluntary compliance, because nobody wants to be pulled over,” State Patrol Capt. James Mjor said.
While police often increase enforcement in problem areas to combat certain violations, recent upgrades in technology have allowed WSP to pinpoint and respond to areas of concern more quickly.
Last year, WSP began using Microsoft Power BI, an analytical tool that uses statistics inputted by troopers to create in-depth visuals of where collisions occur in the county.
Troopers input their numbers at the end of each day, including the number and types of collisions, as well as the time, date and location where crashes occurred. Power BI transforms the data into easily searchable heat maps and charts available to every WSP trooper from their patrol cars.
The result is as close to a real-time snapshot of collision hotspots as possible.
“We can take a look at yesterday’s data and say there’s a problem anywhere around the state and potentially (refocus) resources to prevent what’s happening,” Mjor said.
The data could even be used to anticipate problem areas and station troopers there ahead of time, WSP spokeswoman Chelsea Hodgson said in an email to the Kitsap Sun.
“With the data we now have showing us where and when collisions are likely to occur (time, day of week, location), we can have the patrols in the right areas at the right times with the goal of preventing those incidents,” Hodgson wrote.
The worst offender here is the 5-mile radius around Gorst, which accounts for 31% of overall highway crashes in Kitsap, according to WSP data. A quarter of those collisions result in injury or death.
Since 2010, WSP has recorded over 10,000 crashes on Kitsap’s state highways, including 83 that resulted in a “serious injury” and 50 that were fatal.
A total of 157 fatal vehicle crashes occurred on Kitsap roads and highways in the last decade, according to numbers from the Washington State Department of Transportation.
The goal of HIVE patrols is to reduce serious injuries and deaths by advertising law enforcement presence in certain areas and taking an “all crimes” approach, Mjor said.
That means pulling over anyone and everyone for violations that are considered likely to cause collisions – speeding, following too close, distracted or impaired driving, traveling in the wrong lane or aggressive driving.
During the Feb. 13 patrol, state patrol troopers joined Kitsap County Sheriff’s deputies and officers from the Bremerton and Port Orchard police departments to pull over 124 vehicles on Highways 3 and 16 between Austin Drive and Sedgwick Road. A Jan. 23 patrol on Highway 16 resulted in 83 traffic stops in a four-hour period.
“I think just seeing that high visibility, lots of lights out there, lots of patrol cars, hopefully makes people think ‘slow down,’” Kitsap County Target Zero program manager Marsha Masters said.
Target Zero is a federally funded program that aims to eliminate traffic fatalities. Masters spearheads training sessions at local schools and Navy bases on the dangers of impaired driving, the importance of seatbelts and other safe driving tips. Masters also organizes police patrols that focus on DUIs and distracted driving.
“Sometimes that’s what it takes to get someone to wake up and listen is having that big ticket,” Masters said.
It’s not clear yet how effective the HIVE patrols will be at reducing crashes, but early signs have been positive. So far, no collisions have been reported in the focused area during either of the two HIVE patrols this year.
“Early indications (are) it’s successful but we don’t have enough information yet to see how long and sustainable the success is,” Mjor said.
Police plan to conduct “no fewer” than 24 HIVE patrols in 2020, roughly one every two weeks. The next scheduled patrol is Feb. 27 on Highway 303.
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