Police roll out Hall Road traffic enforcement initiative

By: Sarah Wojcik | C&G Newspapers | Published October 10, 2016

In an effort to curb aggressive, distracted and speedy driving before inclement weather and the holiday shopping season hits, police are rolling out an October campaign that includes increased signage and traffic stops along Hall Road from Utica to Chesterfield Township.

The traffic enforcement initiative also is a proactive attempt to increase safe driving before the impending Hall Road reconstruction from Delco Boulevard, just east of M-53, to Hayes Road. That reconstruction is scheduled for March to November 2017.

Lt. Aaron Burgess, of the Sterling Heights Police Department, began the initiative in 2012 with Shelby Township and Utica police, and they expanded it over the years to include Clinton Township and Chesterfield Township. New this year, the Michigan State Police are on board.

On Oct. 5, police invited the media to discuss the initiative with officers and traffic officials on the Merrill Road overpass. Police encouraged the press to use traffic laser guns to see for themselves how fast drivers travel on Hall Road.

At 11 a.m., Officer Robert Petersen, of the Sterling Heights Police Department, said he had clocked a couple of vehicles traveling at 85-95 mph where the freeway ends and the speed limit reduces to 55 mph.

Generally, he said, police give drivers an approximately quarter-mile buffer to slow down.

Even with the Michigan State Police troopers conducting traffic stops on either side of the overpass and the presence of a traffic trailer flashing drivers’ speeds, many vehicles traveled along Hall Road at well over the 55 mph speed limit.

“Where the crashes (on Hall Road) really start is right here (where the freeway ends),” Burgess said. “You have cars that are speeding and driving aggressively, they’re distracted by texting and doing whatever, and they speed and come up over that M-53 hill and maybe run the red light.”

With more congestion on Hall Road, Utica Deputy Police Chief Sean Coady said, three- and four-car accidents are more common, so it is more important than ever to pay attention.

“(With the construction), there will be shifting lanes and closed roadways, and if people continue to drive without paying attention, it could be a serious issue,” Coady said.

The initiative is similar to Operation Blue Light, which cracked down on dangerous and distracted drivers near the intersection of Hall and Schoenherr roads in June and July.

Lt. Jeff Daniel, of the Shelby Township Police Department, said he found out the morning of Oct. 5 that the intersection at Hall and Schoenherr, which was the No. 1 crash location in Macomb County, had been reduced to No. 3.

“There’s no way to be for sure that it’s because of our efforts, but we put a lot of man hours and a lot of radar trailers, message trailers and enforcement trailers out there,” Daniel said.

From Jan. 1 through June 2016, there were 887 accidents reported in Shelby Township, 246 in Utica, 2,566 in Sterling Heights and 1,527 in Clinton Township, according to an accident report prepared by the Traffic Safety Association of Macomb County. The total volume of accidents in the county is down 0.9 percent from the same reporting period in 2015, according to the report.

“I can show you all the statistics in the world, but until you’ve had to walk into somebody’s house and make a death notification — that’s not a statistic, that’s a human being,” Burgess said. “We’ve had to do that, so we’re doing our best to try to shut it down.”

Jim Santilli, CEO of the Transportation Improvement Association, said the initiative complements a new long-term project by his organization to examine M-59 in Macomb County and change, if need be, what he called the three E’s: engineering, education and enforcement.

The multijurisdictional M-59 traffic safety team will have its first meeting Oct. 17, Santilli said.

The group will look at signal timing to reduce traffic backups and the number of drivers running red lights, as well as the appropriateness of current posted speed limits.

“There are laws in Michigan about how you set up a speed limit. You don’t just put up a sign. You do a speed study and look at the 85th percentile — what 85 percent of the drivers are traveling at,” he said. “We look at crash data, as well as road geometrics.”

He said the group also will focus on public awareness campaigns to discourage distracted driving, aggressive driving, speeding and red-light running.

Finally, he said, it will coordinate with local law enforcement to hammer the point home.

“It’s not about writing people tickets or giving them fines and points. It’s about public education and trying to save lives and prevent injuries,” Santilli said. “Unfortunately, you can design a road correctly and design vehicles so they minimize the impact of the traffic crash, and you can have public education campaigns, but ultimately if those things aren’t working, you have to do enforcement.”

He said drivers have a responsibility not only to protect their own lives, but the lives of the innocent people traveling around them, and following simple safety precautions is the surest way to avoid traffic crashes.

“It’s important to obey traffic safety control devices, such as traffic signals, drive the speed limit, wear your safety belt and avoid distractions while driving,” Santilli said. “Those simple steps can help us to save lives and prevent injuries on the roadway.”