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People in a hurry make Manteca streets less safe

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POSTED February 27, 2012 12:15 a.m.

The motorist was irate.

Nick Obligacion was getting ready to make a right turn off Center Street onto North Main in an unmarked police car when the light had turned green.

The police chief didn’t move because a woman was crossing Main Street. He glanced in his rear view mirror and saw the driver behind him go ballistic.

The incident happened before Obligacion became Manteca’s police chief. It underscores the biggest problem when it comes to making Manteca’s streets safer - patience or lack thereof.

“Everyone is in a hurry to get somewhere today,” Obligacion said. “If you’re running late, speeding doesn’t get you there on time. . . People should make a point of leaving early the next time so they won’t be late.”

Obligacion pins a whole repertoire of traffic safety issues on people being in a hurry from traffic accidents to pedestrians being cut off.

The new police chief is no stranger to traffic concerns in Manteca. He served in the traffic division for 12 of the 20-plus years he’s been with the force.

He noted that Manteca residents on average lose more to traffic accidents than they do to burglary and theft. The losses run the gamut from damages, medical, lost wages, to rental cars.

“If someone steals an i-Pod out of your car and you can go to the store that day and replace it,” Obligacion. “It isn’t that easy when your car gets damaged.”

There were 675 traffic accidents in Manteca during 2011. That was up 5.97 percent from 2010 when 637 accidents occurred.

Also up are injury accidents. There were 156 in 2011 compared to 112 in 2010 for an increase of 39.29 percent. Hit and run accidents were up 53.49 percent in 2011 going from 43 to 66. Driving under the influence accidents also jumped going from 43 to 47 for a 9.3 percent rise.

While accidents were up, tickets were down due largely to the traffic division being pared back to concentrate more on other crimes due to the redeployment of manpower under staffing reductions put in place 26 months ago.

The 2011 to 2010 statistics compiled by the Manteca Police Departments notes:

•total violations are down 18.59 percent going from 6,149 to 5,006.

•driving under the influence violations are down 41.2 percent going from 284 to 167.

•moving violations are down 23.63 percent going from 1,391 to 1,274.

•child restraint violations are down 55.67 percent going from 60 to 26.

•seat belt violations are down 26.64 percent going from 473 to 347.

•parking violations are down 55.37 percent going from 1,833 to 818.

Part of the drop off in parking violations is the result of a state law change that prohibits non-paid police employees such as volunteers from writing tickets. For years, Seniors Helping Area Residents and Police ticketed vehicles illegally parked in handicapped zones and issued other non-moving violations after being trained to do so by police.

Tickets used to deter & educate

Obligacion noted police - contrary to a myth that some hold - do not have quotas when it comes to ticket writing. Nor does the city get the lion’s share of the fines.

Tickets are used as a deterrent and to educate.

Even so, that doesn’t mean when an officer pulls someone over for a violation they will get a ticket.

Obligacion said it depends on the circumstances. Blow through a stop sign and an officer sees you it’s a ticket guaranteed. If it’s a California rolling stop, the officer - at his discretion - may simply choose to educate the motorist and let them off with a stern warning.

Obligacion said drivers sometimes honestly believe they did not commit a moving infraction such as going through a stop sign. In such cases, he has brought motorists back to his motorcycle where a mounted video plays back what he saw the driver do.

Obligacion said drivers are often astounded to see that they did commit a traffic infraction.

The police chief attributes that to people falling into a routine and driving on “automatic” at times.

Obligacion credits alert - and defensive driving - that he learned at a private driving school his father sent him to as a teen with him avoiding a serious accident while in the Monterrey area years ago. The lesson was to routinely check his rear view mirror. He came upon an accident on a roadway where traffic had come to the stop. he glanced in the rearview mirror and saw another vehicle coming that looked like it wasn’t going to stop. He turned to the shoulder and out of the way resulting in the car striking the vehicle in front of him.

Obligacion noted that officers when they write tickets often go with the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law.

For example, in crosswalk sting operations, motorists who failed to let a pedestrian get a safe distance from them before passing were ticketed and not those who failed to completely adhere to the law. In that case, the letter of the law requires a pedestrian to be safe and out of the roadway on the other side of the street before you can move forward.

Obligacion’s best advice to avoid an accident - or a ticket - can be summed up in seven words: Don’t be in such a big hurry.


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