Is This Really Such A Good Idea? Law Enforcement Officer Responds To Proposed Traffic Bill
Last September, the Holden Police Department released some pretty staggering statistics on the number of minor traffic infractions they had clocked up for the year, thus far.
Said Holden Police Chief, Chris Greeley:
"We've been able to increase our patrols for specific things like OUI enforcement, speeding details, seatbelt details, and distracted driving enforcement. And we have just been stopping hundreds and hundreds of cars and just writing all kinds of tickets for these very flagrant violations."
He mentioned that at its peak, about 40,000 cars travel along Route 1A, to and from the Ellsworth/MDI area during the summer. The number of tickets he and his Department issued in just under a year, adding in OUI infractions, seatbelt infractions, and speeding tickets was close to 2,000.
That's why a new bill, currently being considered by the Maine Legislature, has Maine's Law Enforcement officers, like Greeley, worried.
According to the Maine.gov website, the bill, LD 1479, is being proposed by Rep. Victoria Morales of South Portland. LD 1479 is a concept draft at the moment and was discussed in a workshop by Maine Lawmakers this past Monday.
The summary proposes:
"to make certain traffic infractions secondary offenses, including littering from a vehicle, failing to register a vehicle or properly display a vehicle registration, failing to display a valid and current vehicle inspection sticker, failing to wear a seat belt, making unnecessary noise, operating of a defective vehicle, operating a motorcycle without a headlight, operating a vehicle with an obstructed view, operating a vehicle in a 2-way or left lane, or operating a vehicle with a suspended license as a result of failure to pay a fine, license reinstatement fee or a dishonored check, and certain equipment violations under the Maine Revised Statutes, Title 29-A, chapter 17, subchapter 1."
The Associated Press states that Morales says "...the bill... is intended to protect the rights of drivers, especially some people of color who do not feel safe behind the wheel."
Is this really such a good idea?
Chief Greeley questions the outcome of such a bill, should it pass into Maine law.
"I think it's safe to say that law enforcement is going to be against the idea. I understand the concerns of the minority communities in Maine, but I don't think is really an issue for Maine, frankly. I can tell you it's not an issue for Holden. But no matter how well-intentioned the bill is, and I appreciate that, I think the idea is that it would ultimately make it less safe for people on Maine's highways."
Law Enforcement officials, like Chief Greeley, are concerned that this will lead to more dangerous roadways for Maine drivers.
"One of the many offenses, under this bill, would be not stopping for an expired inspection sticker. So things like that are a concern. People not being seatbelted are a concern. There are no questions, too, that many times law enforcement is stopping for motor vehicle infractions, and while they may not write for those motor-vehicle infractions, like an expired registration or inspection sticker or a cracked windshield, oftentimes we end up getting a person who's wanted, who's under suspension, who's violating a protection order, who's violating a bail condition or even, perhaps more seriously, in some cases, is under the influences of drugs or alcohol."
Greeley goes on to say,
"Stopping someone for a headlight is a completely valid and legal reason to stop a car. It's a Title 29-A Motor Vehicle Violation. Do we ticket for that? No, we typically don't write a ticket for somebody with a defective headlight, but it's a legal reason to stop the car. And if we stop 10 of those on a Saturday night, there's a good chance one of those is going be under the influence, or one might have a warrant, or a protection order, with the protected party in the passenger's seat. "
"We had a record year, last year, in the town of Holden, with OUIs. We had more OUI's last year -- more than any year -- that we've been a police department. And one of the tools that we used was stopping people for motor vehicle defects. "
"Yes, it's a tool, but we never do that based on the skin color of the operator. We don't do that. 99 times out of 100, at 1 o'clock in the morning, we don't even know the persuasion of the driving the car. We can't tell if they're a man or a woman. We don't know if they're a person of color or not. We're out there doing motor vehicle enforcement and looking for the possibility of an OUI or some criminal violation irrespective of the color of the skin of the person driving the car. "
"We've been able to make this road a safer road. We have not had a motor vehicle fatality since 2017. I think increased enforcement on this road has helped to lessen motor vehicle fatalities and serious crashes on 1A. Take that tool away, for stopping people for lesser motor vehicle violations, I think that's going to lead to more unprosecuted OUI offenders on the road."