At the May County Commissioners’ meeting, Hand County Sheriff Doug DeBoer asked the commissioners to approve an application and subsequent agreements for the 2013-14 Highway Safety Grant. His request was for $18,000, which would include some equipment, but mostly would cover manpower to implement the safety program in the county.
DeBoer says the grant is federal money from the National Highway Safety Administration and comes from gas taxes.
The grant is administered through South Dakota’s Department of Public Safety.
“Our main focus will be an effort to reduce traffic injury and fatality crashes in Hand County,” DeBoer explained.
Last year, the county had 111 “reportable motor vehicle crashes,” including one fatality and 12 injury crashes. There was also more than $500,000 in estimated monetary losses due to crashes in 2012.
“Actually, the Sheriff’s Department investigated 126 accidents, but to be reported to Pierre an accident has to have at least $1,000 of damage or an injury, and occur on public property.”
The highest number of reportable accidents in the county in recent years was 203 in 2003.
By comparison, Beadle County, which has a population of 17,753 persons, compared to Hand County’s population of 3,388, had 299 crashes in 2012, no fatalities, and 76 injury accidents.
Reportable 2012 crashes in neighboring counties were Spink, 200 crashes, one fatality; Jerauld, 60 crashes, two fatalities; Faulk, 47 crashes; Buffalo, 21 crashes; and Hyde, 17 crashes.
“There has been some success with this type of highway safety program,” DeBoer said. Statewide, 5,387 injuries were reported in 2012. The 10-year high was in 2002, with 6,997 injuries.
“Our ultimate goal is to reduce fatalities, injuries and property damage,” DeBoer stated. “The grant will allow us to put officers on the road, because of the additional federal funding. We will put an officer in locations where we are most likely to have speeders. The majority of motorists that break the speed limit are driving on hard-surfaced roads.”
The highest rate of speeders is on Highway 14 going west, followed by Highway 14 going east; then SD Highway 45 going south; SD Highway 45 going north; and Highway 26.
Sheriff’s deputy Patrick McGawley will be the primary officer with the program, and DeBoer said the public will notice more patrol of areas in Hand County.
The county has benefited in the past from the funding. “In addition to paying for overtime, traffic radar was purchased. In 2013, I will ask for a speed display board that will permanently be located in St. Lawrence, because many vehicles don’t slow down going through the town.”
DeBoer foresees a crackdown on people not wearing seatbelts. City and County law enforcement have held seatbelt checks at the four-way stop in Miller, and such checks show there is room for improvement.
Speed is normally the main factor in a traffic crash in Hand County, and DeBoer says reduction in speed should result in a reduction in injury, non-injury and fatal accidents.
Based on 2012 data of accidents that occurred in Hand County, the “average driver” involved in an accident is likely to be driving too fast on dry, straight and level roads, unrelated to an intersection, driving a pickup at night on a Friday evening about 8 p.m. Other contributing factors would be a wild animal and/or consumption of alcohol.
The “safest environment” for driving is on a Saturday in February, during the day between 1 and 3 p.m., in a minivan when it is overcast, and no drugs or alcohol have been consumed.
DeBoer says there haven’t been many serious motorcycle accidents in recent years, at least on public roadways.
The first facet of the program will be concentrating on speed reduction. The second facet will be DWI enforcement.
“The goal is to detect, apprehend and prosecute impaired drivers,” DeBoer related. “This is not just focusing on alcohol, but also prescription drugs and illegal drugs.”
More officers will also be mobilized during big events, such as St. Patrick’s Day, New Year’s Eve, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day. DeBoer says other “events” include graduations, proms, birthdays and weddings.
“It seems we celebrate or recognize everything with alcohol, even funerals,” DeBoer said. “With any gathering, there is a greater likelihood people will be consuming alcohol.”
The cost of being arrested for drinking and driving goes far beyond the fines and court costs, and a suspended or revoked license. The offender may be ordered to take classes or participate in a 24/7 program, at his expense. “High risk insurance has to be purchased, at about triple the regular premium,” DeBoer pointed out. “Weigh all that with what it costs to call for a ride home.”
DeBoer noted that since he joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1992, he has had to deliver 87 death notices (resulting from accidents) to family members. “That’s just the count of what I’ve delivered,” he said, “and some of the accidents occurred outside the county. But it is still a high tally.”
That’s the primary reason DeBoer wants to take advantage of the Highway Safety Grant. Too many have been injured or killed; it’s high time to do something about it.