Police Crack Down On Speedy Winter Drivers

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(Host) Winter storms in recent weeks have turned highway surfaces to ice. Cars and trucks have gone sliding off the roads and into each other. And police have been among the victims.

As VPR’s Ross Sneyd reports, they’re starting to crack down.

(Sneyd) Three police cruisers sit in front of the Williston state police barracks. All of them have been totaled in accidents.

In each case, an officer was pulled over to the side of the road, helping to investigate another accident when the cruiser was hit.

Police officials say this has happened all too often and they’re asking the public to do something about it.

(Flannigan) "We’ve had too many close calls lately."

(Sneyd) Lieutenant John Flannigan is in charge of traffic enforcement for the state police.

Two of these cruisers belong to troopers who were sitting behind the wheel – with their seat belts on while their blue flights were flashing – helping a driver who had crashed.

The rear of both cars are smashed in, windows are broken, a couple of tires flattened. One trooper walked away and the other had to get a few stitches. A South Burlington police cruiser was hit while the officer was outside the car and he wasn’t hurt.

Flannigan says it’s gotten bad.

(Flannigan) "During the week of Jan. 4 and Jan. 10, Vermont State Police investigated 153 crashes during that seven-day period, many that were during winter conditions. Out of those 153 crashes, 26 involved injuries and one unfortunately involved a fatality that occurred in Charlotte."

(Sneyd) Many of those drivers have ended up with a ticket that carries two points on their license and a fine up to $214. The violation: driving in a manner that is not "prudent for the conditions."

(Flannigan) "There can’t be an expectation that roads are going to be dry and are going to be bare."

(Sneyd) Flannigan says the Vermont Transportation Agency no longer maintains a "bare roads" policy. Drivers have to slow down.

South Burlington Police Chief Trevor Whipple says the law has to be enforced.

(Whipple) "I see it daily. If a vehicle leaves the highway, that individual has done something wrong. You are obligated under state law, obligated under common sense to drive in a manner such that you can keep your car on the road."

(Tow Truck) Sound of car being loaded up

(Sneyd) If you can’t, Rick LePage is often one of the people who pulls you back onto the road. He runs Rick’s Towing in Williston.

And he sides with the police when it comes to slowing down whenever there’s weather. Because he, too, has had a scare on the interstate.

(LePage) "I know last year on the interstate between exits 16 and 17, I was working on a guardrail incident and actually had to jump over the rails to get out of the way for a vehicle that was there. So we’ve had a lot of close calls. It’s getting scary out there."

(Sneyd) Another state law that police are aggressively enforcing requires drivers to move to the left if possible when a cruiser, emergency vehicle or tow truck is pulled over with lights flashing.

If you don’t, that violation carries five points on your license. And a fine of $243.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd in Williston.

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