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Valley Perspective

Self-Policing Is Best Traffic Ticket : LAPD crackdown a necessary reminder to obey rules of the road

September 29, 1996

Getting a traffic ticket ranks right up there with bad hair days and Brussels sprouts for most people. So it was somewhat surprising that a Los Angeles Police Department study found local motorists actually want traffic cops to issue more tickets for bad driving. Less surprising: Those same motorists think other drivers--not themselves--deserve the tickets.

Over the past nine months, officers assigned to the LAPD's Valley Traffic Division have obliged by writing tickets at the staggering pace of one every five minutes, on average. In August, for instance, police wrote 8,595 tickets. By the end of the year, they could write as many as 100,000.

The goal is not to boost city coffers--although that happens, too--but to curb the kind of driving that gets people killed. It's working. So far this year, serious and fatal collisions in the Valley are down 22% from last year, dropping from 426 to 326. The rationale behind Capt. Alan Kerstein's order for more tickets is that the threat of a several hundred dollar fine goes a long way toward promoting safe driving.

It's tough to fault the pocketbook logic of Kerstein's argument. And it's tough to fault the need. Because of the Valley's wide, straight streets drivers are able to build up speed more easily--resulting in more injuries and deaths than in other parts of the city. Even before the crackdown, the Valley accounted for nearly half of the 173,364 tickets police wrote citywide last year. So prevalent are scofflaw drivers that residents ranked them in a recent LAPD study as dangerous to community safety as drugs and violent crime--and ahead of youth gangs. In fact, the average person is more likely to die in a traffic accident than in a random violent crime.

Of course, not everyone is pleased by the stepped-up enforcement. Groups that cater to driving enthusiasts make the unconvincing argument that crackdowns like Kerstein's don't do much good. They contend that accidents can actually increase right along with the ticket count. The laws of probability will no doubt prove them right from time to time, but the overwhelming evidence is that enhanced enforcement saves lives. They also claim that some drivers are better than others, which is certainly true. But it's no reason to allow those people--and all of us think we are those better drivers--to break traffic laws designed for the safety of others.

The bottom line: Traffic rules are easy to obey. Yet all of us regularly ignore them with the conceit that we are competent enough drivers to know better than the law. For every ticket we get, we probably avoid 10 or 20 others, according to traffic statistics, simply because there are not enough cops to stake out every corner. It's pretty simple, really. If we care as much about traffic safety as we say we do, then the best solution is to recognize how often we are the bad drivers we gripe about. And if we forget, chances are good a Valley traffic cop will be happy to remind us.

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