When Lake Zurich police Sgt. Tracey Goodyear is out on her midnight patrols, she can tell when people are texting and driving — and when she pulls them over, she proves it.
Goodyear said she looks through drivers' cellphones to prove that they had been texting.
Distracted driving, including texting while driving, was cited as one of the top traffic safety concerns in Lake Zurich by a group of community leaders who met Tuesday at the Lake Zurich Police Department. The meeting was coordinated with AAA and was designed to not only identify traffic safety concerns but to also try to find solutions.
"It's kind of a community approach. That's what we're looking at," said Goodyear.
Nick Jarmusz, community outreach and safety representative for AAA Chicago, said police departments can't do everything.
"Traffic safety is more of a quality-of-life issue than just a police department issue," he said, noting that traffic incidents take a toll on a person's family and work life.
Distracted driving, Goodyear said, is her No. 1 traffic safety concern. Each year, the Lake Zurich Police Department compiles and studies statistics on traffic crashes. There were 708 crashes in 2011, compared to 595 in 2010.
"What's contributing to that? It's hard to tell," said Goodyear. "But that's something we're very unhappy to see. Do I think some of it's technology? Absolutely."
That distracted driving also is seen in school zones, said Karen Logan, transportation director of Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95. She said drivers have been seen talking or texting near schools — even on school property.
Texting and driving is illegal in Illinois, as is talking on cellphones in school zones while school is in session — unless a driver is on a hands-free headset.
"I don't think they're realizing it," said Logan. "I think they've always done it."
Dale Perrin, executive director of the Lake Zurich Area Chamber of Commerce, said excessive speeding is definitely an issue, particularly on Route 12.
Logan also expressed concerns about drivers who fail to stop when a bus has lowered its stop arm.
Goodyear said the police department follows up on every complaint received from a bus driver. She said when a bus driver reports a license plate that has, for example, committed a stop-arm violation, an officer visits the individual's house and sends a letter.
"We want to educate people. We want to reduce the injuries and the crashes," said Goodyear.
Education seems to be one of the keys to improving traffic safety.
"The kids — they know the laws better than we do," said Goodyear. "It's the parents that we're not reaching."
Jarmusz asked whether there are any ways to educate the community about issues like speeding and distracted driving.
Finlon said the Buffalo Grove Police Department has taken a unique approach to the texting and driving issue. He said officers stand at intersections as if they are a charity collecting money, but instead they walk down the lanes of stopped traffic to identify people violating the texting-while-driving law. Finlon pointed out that a car must be in park for a driver to text; simply being stopped at a traffic light does not legally allow a driver to text.
He added that the Buffalo Grove Police Department is among the top law enforcement agencies when it comes to texting enforcement.
Trustee Terry Mastandrea suggested that trying to educate people while they're at events like football games.
Jarmusz agreed, adding that would allow the opportunity to point out that athletes wouldn't text during a game because it would be too distracting.
Finlon suggested implementing a program that would reward drivers who weren't pulled over by police during the year. He said employees of local businesses could sign a pledge and then be entered into a drawing for a prize at the end of the year.
Goodyear said the traffic safety group will meet again soon to discuss these ideas and possibly select some initiatives to try this year.
What do you think are the biggest traffic safety concerns in Lake Zurich? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
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