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FRIDAY, JULY 27, 2007

State planning highway crackdown
200 additional officers to hit roadways Aug. 13-17 to help prevent fatalities

By Phillip Rawls
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — About 200 extra officers will appear on Alabama highways during Aug. 13-17 because the state Department of Public Safety is trying to reverse a deadly trend: Alabama's highway death toll is going up while the nation's is going down.

State Public Safety Director Chris Murphy announced the effort, called "Take Back Our Highways," on Thursday. His announcement came three days after the U.S. Department of Transportation announced that traffic deaths in the U.S. in 2006 declined 2 percent from the previous year and were at their lowest level in five years.

Murphy, an appointee of Gov. Bob Riley, said Alabama's highway deaths increased 5 percent in 2006 to 1,208. That was the highest figure since 1973, when the state recorded 1,235 deaths.

"Any way you look at it, too many people are dying on Alabama roadways," Murphy said at a news conference with some district attorneys who endorsed the crackdown.

Overdue campaign

St. Clair County District Attorney Richard Minor, who has Interstate 20 running through his county, said one motorist was recently in court for going 148 miles per hour in his county.

"This campaign is overdue for the state of Alabama," he said.

Montgomery County District Attorney Ellen Brooks, who has Interstates 65 and 85 in her county, said the crackdown will mean more work for prosecutors, but it will be worth it if it achieves its goal of saving lives.

"This is not a public relations gimmick. This is hard work," she said.

Murphy said motorists traveling Alabama's interstate highways realize there is a shortage of state troopers to patrol the roads. "Unfortunately, driving behavior on our highways reflects that," he said.

Murphy said he recently saw a sign at the Florida line that said: "Welcome to Florida. Now slow down."

"The implication is obvious," the public safety director said.

The Department of Public Safety's Highway Patrol Division has 361 officers. They will be joined from Monday, Aug. 13 through Friday, Aug. 17 by 200 officers from other divisions of the Department of Public Safety, Murphy said.

Alabama had a similar crackdown in August 2004, when Riley announced that county and city officers would join state troopers in patrolling interstate highways to try to reduce traffic deaths.

The officers wrote hundreds of extra tickets, but Alabama ended the year with 1,156 traffic deaths, up nearly 15 percent from 2003.

Murphy said "Taking Back Our Highways" won't be a one-time initiative. He said more special enforcement periods will be scheduled later in the year to try to make sure motorists don't slow down for one week and then return to their old habits.

During the crackdown, some of the officers will be in unmarked cars, but all officers will be in uniform. Taking notice of some past cases of fake officers pulling over motorists, Murphy said anyone who is pulled over by an unmarked car and is concerned whether a real officer is behind the wheel can call 911 or └HP to verify the identity.

Not all the extra officers will be on interstate highways. Murphy said the assignments will vary from area to area, depending on what type of roads are experiencing the most problems.

Also, Murphy said motorists better not think they are in the clear if they pass an officer writing a ticket. On some highways, officers will be stationed every 10 miles because motorists tend to speed up once they pass an officer who's stopped another motorist, he said.

Alabama highway deaths

Alabama highway traffic deaths for the last decade:

2006 1208

2005 1148

2004 1156

2003 1007

2002 1038

2001 998

2000 990

1999 1148

1998 1071

1997 1192

- State Department of Public Safety

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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