Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Cops: If you see something, do something

Florida Weekly 'Outdoors' column, July 31, 2019

It’s hard to miss this big rig blocking the sidewalk but it remained for weeks. DAN MOSER / FLORIDA WEEKLY

“If You See Something, Say Something” is an awareness campaign slogan that came to be after the 9-11 terrorist attacks. Obviously, it’s intended to spur the public to let law enforcement know whenever something seems suspicious, initially to thwart terrorist attacks. I’d like to suggest a new phrase with the intended target not being the public but rather the law enforcement community: “See Something, Do Something.” While it would seem obvious that anytime law enforcement officials see something amiss or illegal they act upon it in one way or another, the fact is it’s quite common for many illegal and dangerous acts that are traffic related to be overlooked or ignored.

Considering how horrific our traffic crash statistics are here in Southwest Florida I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to expect traffic law enforcement be a high priority. Vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and people on bikes are killed and injured at a rate almost double the national average, a rate that’s been this way for decades. One reason may be due to the lack of adequate traffic law enforcement which results in drivers realizing there’s little chance of them being stopped, warned or cited for violating traffic law.

Dan Moser is a long-time bicycle/pedestrian
advocate and traffic safety professional
who cycles, runs and walks regularly for
transportation, recreation and  fitness.
Contact him at
and 239-334-6417.
I write this with the best of intentions and as one who frequently works with the various enforcement agencies to reduce crashes, injuries and fatalities, especially among non-motorists. I’ve taken part in high visibility enforcement operations, ride-alongs and crosswalk enforcement operations so I appreciate the efforts being undertaken. But whether the apparent ongoing nominal level of enforcement is because it’s a low priority within the various law enforcement agencies or just thought of as inconsequential and not worthy of the time and effort required I’m not sure. Whatever the reason, far too many traffic infractions are witnessed by law enforcers but not acted upon. Anyone who pays attention while on our roads and pathways witnesses what I’m describing on a regular basis.

Data comparing traffic-related deaths, injuries, and financial loss to those same costs for crime are hard to come by but a recent University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study did just that. Researchers found serious crime in Michigan in 2015 resulted in $2 billion in monetary costs and $8 billion in total costs (monetary and nonmonetary quality-of-life) versus overall traffic crashes resulting in $4.6 billion in monetary costs and $19.3 billion in total costs. More significantly, they documented 539 criminal homicides versus 1,011 fatal crashes and 28,775 non-fatal violent crimes versus 76,065 crash-related injuries. When comparing nonmonetary statistics for Florida, in 2017 there were 561 homicides versus 3,117 traffic fatalities and 42,877 non-fatal violent crimes versus 254,310 crash-related injuries (sources: and Even when only the human factor is considered, traffic incidents are clearly more of a societal problem than crime. However, other than Florida Highway Patrol, most law enforcement agencies dedicate only a fraction of their budgets and manpower for traffic law enforcement.

If nothing else, the following common violations that affect non-motorists’ safety and access could initially be targeted:

Blatant violations by motorists turning right on a red light without first stopping, putting vulnerable road users at high risk when attempting to cross at intersections.

Folks on bicycles operating against the flow of traffic instead of riding in the same direction as other traffic.

Motorists obstructing foot and bicycle traffic by parking on sidewalks.

Each of these violations is obvious when occurring so the only reason I can speculate they are not addressed is because they are purposely ignored.

No one wants to see our roads turned into places where everyone must fear being pulled over each time we’re out there but something needs to change because the current approach isn’t working, as confirmed by our year-after-year crash statistics. Understanding the time and effort it takes to write citations and knowing that not all law enforcement personnel will be able to drop what they’re doing whenever they witness traffic violations we should at least expect many more contacts made with violators if only to educate and raise awareness. I suspect an encounter that results in nothing more than a reminder or a verbal warning would probably be much more impactful for the violator, at least for those who aren’t “the usual suspects” who make it a habit to break traffic laws and have the record to confirm as much. For those folks, a written citation is in order.

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