Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Enforcement on the Island

Officer Scott Roach with Meghan Carter, the affiliate executive director for MADD St. Louis.

Officer Scott Roach with the St. Louis County Police Department has a passion for keeping people alive. Sometimes his passion leads him to an uninhabited island, or more precisely a median island at an intersection near Melville High School.

Officer Roach knows that keeping your hands on the wheel and off of your cell phone can prevent a crash, and wearing your seat belt can save your life if you are in one. The state of Missouri has made it illegal to text and drive if you are 21 or under; and St. Louis County has passed an ordinance saying you can be pulled over and ticketed if you are not wearing your seat belt – at any age.

He says these laws are sometimes difficult to enforce from the comfort of his patrol car simply because you can’t really see what is going on inside the vehicle of a passing motorist. He says people have taken to holding their cell phones down low so you can’t see what they are doing which makes texting and driving even more dangerous.

With all this in mind, on a recent week day, Officer Roach got out of his patrol car, and took an unassuming position on the island at the intersection of Lemay Ferry Road at Buckley Road in jeans and a hoodie.  He had previously set  up his plan with five officers in squad cars who were on the side of the road just ahead of him.

 “Two thumbs on a keyboard is a dead giveaway,” said Roach. But even then it’s difficult to prove someone was texting. They can always use the excuse of checking voicemail or flipping through their contact list. “One young lady said she was texting her mom to tell her she would be calling her later,” he said. “That is not worth causing an accident.”

From his spot on the island, he radioed ahead to the squad cars a visual description of the vehicles in which the drivers was breaking the law. In two hours, the officers had together written tickets for 35 seat belt violations and three texting while driving tickets.

“I decided it was time to do something different when I realized my own daughter is just 9 years away from driving,” says Roach. “ I won’t be able to stand on that island very many times before people catch on to me. But then we’ll come up with something new.”