CHP officers take on rude and dangerous drivers

Sgt. Ben Grasmuck writes a ticket as Sixth Street was lined with flashing lights and CHP officers giving citations Wednesday as the local California Highway Patrol office used a federal grant to educate and prevent pedestrian fatalities. The officers got

An undercover California Highway Patrol officer in a bright florescent yellow shirt was in a crosswalk at Sixth and Eigleberry streets in downtown Gilroy when a silver Chevy raced by, missing him by inches.
In the blink of an eye, a CHP officer in a squad car with lights flashing took off after the offender who was in a postal service uniform. She got a ticket, as did more than 20 other people Wednesday morning.
This was part of a crackdown on drivers who ignore the safety of pedestrians, sponsored by a federal grant and the six officers working all morning were accompanied by an ambulance, in case the undercover officer got hit.
“I think I’m very pleased with the number of people who did stop,” said Sgt. Ben Grasmuck, who headed the three-hour-long operation. “We thought it would be fish in a barrel. We were very pleased that most people obey the law. It’s a little scary, though, the people who said they didn’t see him.”
The nine-year-veteran officer, whose name is being kept out because he works undercover, was pretending to text on a cell phone while he entered the crosswalk. He had very specific rules to follow. He wore as bright a shirt as he could find and he wouldn’t step into the road until a car had passed an orange cone 162 feet away. That gave the drivers enough time to see him and make the decision to step on the brakes.
“We want to be as fair as possible to the violator,” said Grasmuck. “We want to be righteous.”
The officers were also looking for pedestrians who walked into the crosswalk without looking or giving cars the right-of-way.
The law spells it out this way:
“The driver of a vehicle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian crossing the roadway within any marked crosswalk or within any unmarked crosswalk at an intersection, except as otherwise provided in this chapter.
“This section does not relieve a pedestrian from the duty of using due care for his or her safety. No pedestrian may suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle that is so close as to constitute an immediate hazard. No pedestrian may unnecessarily stop or delay traffic while in a marked or unmarked crosswalk.”
No pedestrians were cited, but in three hours the officers cited 20 people for infringing on pedestrians and three for seat belt, cell phone and tinted window violations.
One driver honked at the officer, trying to rush him out of the crosswalk. Several said they just didn’t see the officer, including a mother with her daughter who was looking something up on her phone. One man got his citation and returned to ask the officer if he was really in the street. He couldn’t believe he didn’t see him.
The speed limit on Sixth is 25 miles an hour, but the officers staked out the road as if the drivers were moving 10 miles an hour faster, giving them even more of a break.
The enforcement was sponsored by a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration grant in response to rapidly rising number of fatal pedestrian accidents. There were 6,000 deaths last year, up 12 percent over the previous year. Some of that is attributed drivers and pedestrians being distracted by cell phones.
Was the sergeant worried about the safety of his officer?
“No, because he was so on his toes,” said Grasmuck. “The average person who would have been on the phone, absolutely, they would have been in danger. The operational plan thought it was dangerous enough to have an ambulance out there.”
Officers said they thought the enforcement action would help spread the word about watching out for pedestrians. The citation counts as one moving violation and costs at least $238–although court costs can escalate that figure greatly.
“Everyone who gets a ticket will tell 12 others and the word will spread,” said Grasmuck. “The hardest part of this was how nice the people were when we stopped them. They were so apologetic and polite. It takes the fun out of it.
“But I was talking to a nurse and we realized we had something in common. Giving citations is like giving shots to kids. The recipients don’t like it, but you have to do it to save lives.”