2011-04-29 / Community

Grant to help put the brakes on speeders

CHP to target drivers on 118
By Darleen Principe

Eight years on the force and Officer Miguel Duarte of the California Highway Patrol has become an expert in spotting motorist violations.

From the driver’s seat of his black-and-white patrol car, Duarte watched passing vehicles on the 118 Freeway in Simi Valley and Moorpark, looking for speeders, drivers making erratic lane changes or not wearing their seat belts, and others who were breaking traffic laws.

He also stopped to assist a family parked on the eastbound shoulder near Madera Road with hazard lights on because a young girl was having a medical emergency.

During a ride-along last Friday morning, the public information officer of the Moorpark CHP office described the benefits of a recently enacted “DUI safety corridor” along the 118, which was funded last month by a $212,803 grant from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Having the grant is really nice,” Duarte said. “It allows officers to concentrate on enforcement.

“We’re saturating the freeway, so people will start to notice and hopefully will drive a little safer.”

The grant, which was awarded to the CHP last November, was supposed to go into effect Jan. 1. But due to state deferments, the agency didn’t receive the money until last month, delaying implementation of the safety corridor by three months.

The safety corridor will conclude in September, Duarte said.

The grant is being shared with the West Valley CHP, which will cover about 14 miles of the 118 Freeway from Rocky Peak into the San Fernando Valley. Moorpark officers will patrol the portion of the 118 that extends through Simi Valley, Moorpark and into Somis, according to authorities.

For the Moorpark CHP alone, the grant covers 1,886 hours of overtime patrol, 57 overtime clerical hours and 68 dispatch hours.

Although the grant corridor primarily focuses on reducing the number of DUI instances along the freeway, it also allows CHP officers to increase their overall enforcement of general traffic law and safety, Duarte said.

“We’re also looking for distracted drivers,” he said. “The grant is really a twofold effort. One aspect is the additional enforcement. The other aspect is education and providing awareness (of traffic safety) for the public.”

The additional hours are scheduled in shifts, mostly during the weekends, where an extra unit of five or six officers will patrol the 118 specifically, Duarte said.

During a scheduled corridor shift from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. last Friday, Sgt. Mike Curtin directed a unit of patrol officers to enforce speeding violations on both sides of the 118 Freeway in Simi Valley.

From the eastbound shoulder on the 118 near the Stearns Street on-ramp, Curtin, standing behind his motorcycle at about 10 a.m., pointed a Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) speed gun at oncoming traffic.

Three officers in separate patrol cars formed a line behind Curtin, awaiting orders to pursue motorists who were driving over the 65 mph speed limit.

Within 10 minutes, all three officers had taken pursuit, directing speed violators to exit the freeway at Kuehner Drive, so they could be cited.

The overtime patrol unit repeated the process several times at different locations along the freeway.

According to Curtin, most of the citations handed out Friday were because drivers were traveling between 80 and 85 miles per hour. While anybody going over the speed limit could be considered a violator, Duarte said, each officer can use his or her discretion on when to issue a citation.

“We’re just hoping that our presence will act as a deterrent for unsafe driving,” Duarte said. “When we do this, we do it out in the open, and with complete transparency.”

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