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Highway Hostility Must Be Stopped : L.A. Needs a Return to Civility, Drastic Moves on Congestion

August 23, 1987|DARYL F. GATES | Daryl F. Gates is chief of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Southern California's motorists have become international news items these days, in a most uncomplimentary way.

We are perceived as being hostile to the extreme--forcing our way through traffic at gunpoint. Although that is an exaggeration, it is unfortunately closer to reality than it would have been just a few years ago.

We have been experiencing a tremendous increase in the number of vehicles on our highways, without commensurate increases in traffic lanes and parking spaces. Concurrently we have seen the formation of a pattern of highway hostility, fed by a breakdown in self-discipline and an abandonment of civic responsibility, which must be reversed.

Once again we must extend to our sidewalks and highways the same common courtesy so easily and naturally practiced in our homes and work places. Also we must begin to take seriously the need to employ the best in engineering, technology, legislation and planning to alleviate severe traffic congestion and its inherent frustrations.

In a November, 1986, letter to Mayor Tom Bradley, I made several proposals for easing our city's growing traffic problems. Most were adaptations of the traffic plan that worked so well for the 1984 Olympics: redefining normal business hours and work weeks, especially for those of us in government; regulating the hours for truck loading and unloading; using computer technology to develop mathematical models that would help us eliminate traffic choke-points; closing selected portions of the Central Business District during selected hours to all but high-occupancy and delivery vehicles; urging colleges and universities to adjust class hours, and finding ways to better facilitate traffic flow past major freeway incidents.

I will now add some even more controversial suggestions, such as closing city freeways from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. to all vehicles carrying only one occupant, and eliminating truck traffic on the freeways during peak traffic hours.

In addition to programs designed to improve traffic flow, law enforcement agencies throughout Southern California should join with the Los Angeles Police Department in a stepped-up traffic safety program that emphasizes enforcement of hazardous and congestion-causing violations.

Those who violate the rules of the road, so important to our safety and to the reduction of congestion, must be held accountable. In the city of Los Angeles they most certainly will be, more so than ever before.

The LAPD has historically embraced the concept that public safety on the highways is a police responsibility. In recent years the demands of this responsibility have increased tremendously, as have many other police service requirements. At the same time, resources have dwindled and gaps have developed between the public's need for police services and the services that the police are able to deliver.

In traffic safety, this gap has been manifested by a deterioration in self-discipline of motorists and pedestrians, resulting in more traffic accidents, more serious injuries, more deaths and an increase in the ultimate breakdown in discipline--violence.

Law enforcement agencies in the area have joined in a highly publicized cooperative effort to put an end to the shootings and the brandishing of weapons on our roadways. Several arrests have been made and publicized. Shooters have been booked for murder and attempted murder. They, of course, should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. If they are, this kind of violence will soon subside.

Strong enforcement and swift prosecution will also end the more serious violence committed each and every day by those who violate the rules of the road.

Since the beginning of 1987, the LAPD has reconfirmed that a strong traffic enforcement program also reduces the more traditional traffic carnage. Through June 30, we issued more than 345,000 tickets for hazardous violations such as speeding, running red lights, dangerous turns and jaywalking. During the same period we made more than 16,000 driving-under-the-influence arrests. Those numbers represent a 37% increase in tickets compared to the first six months of 1986, and a 37% increase in drunk driving arrests. As a result, traffic deaths were reduced from 198 to 186; serious injuries from 1,335 to 1,253. For both categories, this is a more than 6% reduction. While traffic deaths and injuries are still intolerably high, the trend is in the right direction.

So, let's get on with improving highway efficiency by implementing sensible plans to reduce traffic congestion and promote traffic safety. Let's put the freeway shooters in prison. Also, let's start obeying the rules of the road as mature, thoughtful, courteous, self-disciplined users of those precious but limited resources--our freeways.

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