Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

June 20, 2012

Officials: Drivers changing bad habits with safety corridor

TAHLEQUAH — Agencies participating in the Cherokee County safety corridor program say reflective signs posted along the area’s most dangerous highways are causing drivers to change their driving habits.

The program kicked off about a month ago, and is set to run throughout the summer. Oklahoma Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. George Brown said troopers have increased their manpower locally to three per shift along the corridors during high-traffic periods.

“Since the safety corridors were set up, we have had one single fatality,” within the corridor, Brown said.

That crashed occurred on State Highway 82 north of Tahlequah, just inside the so-called safety corridor. The driver of the vehicle struck a tree, Brown said.

“Besides the fatality collision, we think it is fair to say the troopers are noticing a significant decrease in general-injury collisions in those corridors,” said Brown. “I think people notice the signs; I think the media has done a good job of publicizing the corridor, and word’s gotten out. People who exceed the speed limit can expect to get stopped. It doesn’t take long for word to spread.”

Brown said the next heavy influx of trooper presence will be during the five-day span covering the July 4 holiday. The additional troopers are paid for through a federal grant, which is funneled to the OHP through the Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.

Highways included in the corridor include sections of State Highways 10, 51, and 82, and U.S. Highway 62. All are marked by large yellow signs, which tell drivers where the corridor begins and ends.

Oklahoma Scenic Rivers Commission Capt. Bill James, ranger supervisor, said the program has been an “outstanding” resource for S.H. 10 and its high summer traffic.

“We’re making quite a few DUI arrests,” said James. “I can tell you that since the week before Memorial Day weekend, there have only been two collisions. That’s not bad on State Highway 10 for the summertime. One was a minor, non-injury crash, and one was serious, and that one did involve alcohol.”

He believes the signs and the program’s publicity have heightened awareness for drivers who both live in the area and visit for vacations.

“I’ve got a ranger who is dedicated to DUI enforcement out here. That’s his whole job - Highway 10 and the roads surrounding the river,” said James. “The other rangers on the weekends, they start out doing boat checks in the morning, then about 4 p.m., as people are coming off the river, we shift our emphasis to patrolling the roads.”

Last weekend, James said, rangers were the only law-enforcement agency to make a DUI arrest along S.H. 10. It’s the first time in a long while that the number of DUI arrests has been so low on a summer weekend.

“That’s unbelievable,” said James. “It seems like the highway is safer, even though the traffic is still there. People are driving slower, and they’re using designated drivers.”

Tahlequah Police Department spokesman Brad Robertson said city officers are continuing their efforts to educate drivers about safety.

“We’ve increased enforcement with overtime funding and the reserve officers,” said Robertson.

Robertson said many drivers still don’t understand the “zero-tolerance” portion of the safety corridor.

“These stretches of road, statistically, are the most dangerous in this community over the past several years,” said Robertson. “That doesn’t mean we haven’t had problems in other areas – all of us know we have. But we’re focusing on what are statistically the areas with the most injury collisions. We’re dealing with aggressive driving and impaired driving.”

Robertson said city officers can use their discretion during each incident to decide whether a warning, citation or arrest is necessary.

“The signs seem to have helped, which is the goal of this entire thing,” he said. “This time of the year, with the increased traffic from visitors to the area, it does become more dangerous. The safety corridor is about asking the public to assist us in keeping everyone safe.”

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