NH police seek grant to target distracted drivers

Police: Officers have seen people shaving, applying makeup and reading newspapers while driving

By Sandra Bradley
The Union Leader

MERRIMACK, N.H. — Local police have been authorized to apply for a grant to combat distracted driving, an issue the police chief says should be brought to the forefront.

Last week, Police Chief Mark Doyle sought permission from the town council to apply for a $4,950 Operation Safe Commute Grant through the New Hampshire Highway Safety Agency.

Doyle said his officers have seen distracted driving in Merrimack, including motorists who read the newspaper, apply makeup and even shave behind the wheel. It takes a collaborative effort between state and local police to address the growing problem, said Doyle.

The town council unanimously accepted Doyle's request. If the grant is received, Merrimack police will be authorized to conduct 24 distracted driving patrols. Each patrol will last about three hours and likely take place during peak commuting hours, according to Doyle.

"Our goal is to attack the distracted driving problem," he said, adding it will hopefully reduce the incidents of distracted driving, diminish accidents and educate drivers about the hazards of texting while driving and other distractions.

Local police conducted similar patrols this year. In the past six months, 10 patrols targeting distracted driving have been performed, with 48 warnings, 10 citations and one arrest made, said Doyle.

"We are confident, at the very least, that word is getting out," Doyle said, adding the public is beginning to recognize the attention police are giving to this serious driving problem.

Councilor Tom Koenig questioned whether the numerous patrols are more distracting to drivers than the infractions themselves. It can be disrupting to motorists when police cruisers are pulling over and stopping vehicles, especially during heavy traffic times, said Koenig, explaining that those actions can sometimes cause unnecessary accidents.

"I don't know how to balance that," said Koenig.

Doyle stressed that while that scenario does happen, it does not occur frequently. Police are advised to be cautious when and where they pull over vehicles, said Doyle, adding drivers should always slow down and be alert as soon as they see a police officer.

Last November, Operation Safe Commute was launched by state and local police. It is a public awareness campaign designed to enforce safe driving techniques and to discourage drivers from multitasking while behind the wheel.

Law enforcement from every corner of the state patrolled highways and rural streets once a month as part of the statewide effort to combat distracted driving and make roads safer.

Col. Robert L. Quinn of the New Hampshire State Police said earlier that distracted driving has become the number one cause of non-fatal accidents in the state. Impaired driving remains the number one contributing factor in accidents that result in death in New Hampshire, he said previously.

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