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Edina police look to give lessons before tickets

  • Article by: MARY JANE SMETANKA
  • Star Tribune
  • January 24, 2013 - 11:11 PM

To Edina Police Chief Jeff Long, it's the little things that make a big difference in keeping a city safe.

Things like taking the time to scrape a car's windshield on a frosty morning, turning headlights on when it rains, and changing lanes to move away from stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights.

This year drivers will be reminded of such laws as the Edina Police Department begins a year-long effort to educate people about often-violated laws, most related to road safety.

The emphasis will change from month to month, with police stopping drivers to point out violations. The snowy, frosty theme for January: obstructed vision.

"We will give verbal warnings and stop and educate [drivers]," Long said. "We are trying to pick violations that people kind of know about but don't have a lot of experience with, and that we don't typically stop people for."

Long said the goal is not to give out tickets, but to educate drivers and avoid preventable accidents.

Just this month, an Edina police officer's squad car was hit in Minnetonka by a driver who hadn't bothered to clear frost from the windows, Long said. Snow, ice or a steamed-up interior can create similar problems. It's even illegal to have objects like fuzzy dice hanging from a rear-view mirror if they may stop drivers from seeing something like a motorcyclist passing on the right side.

In the first two weeks of the "In Focus" program, Edina police stopped about 20 drivers for obstructed vision. Long said most people lean out their windows and ask, "What did I do wrong?"

"It gives people a chance to speak honestly, once they know they're not in trouble," he said. "Most have been grateful or they said they just didn't know."

One driver with windows almost totally frosted over told the officer that he hadn't had time to clear them.

"Edina has a reputation of ticketing everything, but we are trying to show people that one of the biggest parts of traffic enforcement is education," Long said. "We want to make the roads safer."

In future months, the program will concentrate on violations that are especially prevalent at certain times of the year. They include failure to signal, unsafe equipment, failure to display headlights, bike safety, curfew violations, pedestrian safety, child and seat belt safety, school bus stop arm protocol, speeding in school zones, night and snow parking, and the "move over" law requiring motorists to switch lanes in order to move away from stopped emergency vehicles.

Edina did not have a fatality on its roads last year. Long said success may be measured in fewer citations for violations, such as not stopping for school buses that are stopped and extending a stop sign.

All drivers are supposed to stop until the sign is retracted because children may be crossing the street in front of the bus while the sign is showing. Yet drivers seem perennially confused by what to do, especially if they are already driving past a stopped bus, Long said.

Edina issues 15 to 20 tickets to drivers who violate that law each year, and it's an expensive ticket, with fines of $300 and up. Police don't have to be on the spot to catch violators; bus drivers have the authority to note car license plates and report violators to the police.

"I think we can make a difference with that one," Long said.

He knows some people may see the education campaign as a waste of police time. But he said as first responders to accidents, "I don't know that there is anything better than traffic enforcement. ... It does help us do other things that people think we should be doing, stopping crime. When people see police everywhere, that's good."

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

By Mary Jane Smetanka smetan@startribune.com To Edina Police Chief Jeff Long , it's the little things that make a big difference in keeping a city safe. Things like taking the time to scrape a car's windshield on a frosty morning, turning headlights on when it rains, and changing lanes to move away from stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights. This year drivers will be reminded of such laws as the Edina Police Department begins a year-long effort to educate people about often-violated laws, most related to road safety. The emphasis will change from month to month, with police stopping drivers to point out violations. The snowy, frosty theme for January: obstructed vision. "We will give verbal warnings and stop and educate [drivers]," Long said. "We are trying to pick violations that people kind of know about but don't have a lot of experience with, and that we don't typically stop people for." Long said the goal is not to give out tickets, but to educate drivers and avoid preventable accidents. Just this month, an Edina police officer's squad car was hit in Minnetonka by a driver who hadn't bothered to clear frost from the windows, Long said. Snow, ice or a steamed-up interior can create similar problems. It's even illegal to have objects like fuzzy dice hanging from a rear-view mirror if it may stop drivers from seeing something like a motorcyclist passing on the right side. In the first two weeks of the "In Focus" program, Edina police stopped about 20 drivers for obstructed vision. Long said most people lean out their windows and ask, "What did I do wrong?" "It gives people a chance to speak honestly, once they know they're not in trouble," he said. "Most have been grateful or they said they just didn't know." One driver with windows almost totally frosted over told the officer that he hadn't had time to clear them. "Edina has a reputation of ticketing everything, but we are trying to show people that one of the biggest parts of traffic enforcement is education," Long said. "We want to make the roads safer." In future months, the program will concentrate on violations that are especially prevalent at certain times of the year. They include failure to signal, unsafe equipment, failure to display headlights, bike safety, curfew violations, pedestrian safety, child and seat belt safety, school bus stop arm protocol, speeding in school zones, night and snow parking, and the "move over" law requiring motorists to switch lanes in order to move away from stopped emergency vehicles. Edina did not have a fatality on its roads last year. Long said success may be measured in fewer citations for violations, such as not stopping for school buses that are stopped and extending a stop sign. All drivers are supposed to stop until the sign is retracted because children may be crossing the street in front of the bus while the sign is showing. Yet drivers seem perennially confused by what to do, especially if they are already driving past a stopped bus, Long said. Edina issues 15 to 20 tickets to drivers who violate that law each year, and it's an expensive ticket, with fines of $300 and up. Police don't have to be on the spot to catch violators; bus drivers have the authority to note car license plates and report violators to the police. "I think we can make a difference with that one," Long said. He knows some people may see the education campaign as a waste of police time. But he said as first responders to accidents, "I don't know that there is anything better than traffic enforcement. ... It does help us do other things that people think we should be doing, stopping crime. When people see police everywhere, that's good." Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380 Twitter: @smetan

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