Buckle up and keep your eyes on the road; the N.C. Highway Patrol is watching.
Troop D – a nine-county area that includes Orange County – is cracking down this week on people who are driving distracted, reckless or without their seatbelts, Sgt. Jeffrey Miller said.
The dangers of distracted driving were clear March 13 when 134 vehicles became snarled in a series of wrecks on Interstate 40 between Graham and Mebane. Many drivers were not paying attention or were snapping photos of the scene with their phones when they crashed, emergency officials said. At least 25 were taken to area hospitals.
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“I’ve seen people putting on their makeup. I’ve seen people reading a book,” Miller said. “The best one I saw was the other day. The lady was reading a book and talking on the phone and trying to drive on the interstate. That’s taking your life and somebody else’s in your own hands. She didn’t understand why I stopped her.”
Most stops are for violating four “pillars of enforcement” – driving while impaired, speeding, no seat belt and child restraint violations – he said. Distracted driving, which includes texting, fiddling with the radio and other activities, also is a big problem, he said.
Orange County troopers have seen some improvement over the last year, he said. The number of collisions fell 6.5 percent, speeding stops fell 45 percent and alcohol-related incidents fell nearly 19 percent, he said. They’ve had one fatal accident this quarter compared with two last year, he said.
“At 55 mph, you’re traveling 80 feet per second. At 65 mph, you’re traveling 95 feet per second, and it (adds about 15 feet per second) again for every 10 mph you go up. If you don’t have your seatbelt on, speed just gets critical.”
While enforcement campaigns and major accidents only cause temporary changes in driver behavior, Miller said, it’s better than nothing.
“Our philosophy is it does change behavior, because when you see us ... what do you do? You slow down and you reduce your following distance. You drive more aware,” he said. “If you didn’t see us and you knew we were never going to be out there, what would you do?”
The N.C. Highway Patrol is looking to fill about 200 jobs, including some in Orange County, Sgt. Jeffrey Miller said. The openings are due mostly to retirements, he said; the Highway Patrol is losing roughly a dozen people a month now.
Orange County Trooper Dane Dugan, 24, is a Durham native who worked for the Orange Rural Fire Department until joining the Highway Patrol nearly two years ago. It’s hard to name just one thing he likes about the job, Dugan said, but working with and serving people in his community tops the list.
“Helping people, and getting the opportunity to save a life and change a life,” he said. “It’s definitely very rewarding, as well as the freedom with the job, too.”
The Highway Patrol is hiring more younger people now, he said. Applicants must be between 21 and 39 years old, with a high school diploma or GED, and meet physical fitness and other requirements.
For more information, contact the Orange County office at 919-732-2551 or go online to bit.ly/1RqVemh.