La Habra neighborhoods are witnessing a spike in car crashes, with five times as many alcohol-related collisions than last year.
There have been two fatalities this year amidst a total of 475 collisions, which is already ahead of last year’s total.
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In 2020, the city saw a total of 451 car crashes with two fatalities.
That year, only five collisions were related to alcohol, said La Habra Sergeant Eddy Torres during a recent phone interview on city accident data.
Yet this year, there are already 27 DUI-connected car collisions going into the holidays.
City police officials said collisions are spread out throughout the city as opposed to tilted toward any one area.
Yet a Voice of OC review of the city’s traffic safety committee deliberations back in September indicate a number of areas where residents have concerns.
“A real problem is the downhill speed on Hacienda Drive and El Rancho Drive as well as the failure to stop at the stop sign. Going forth with speed lumps and flashing lights is a great way to calm traffic,” said Jenny Valencia, a local and member of the traffic calming committee, during a Sept. 20 council meeting.
“El Portal Drive is in need of crosswalks and speed lumps….El Portal Drive as a school street, in addition to it being a residential street, would have best served as its own traffic plan and not be lumped into the rest of the Neighborhood ‘E’ traffic plan,” another local explained.
City officials are now in the process of adding a total of 50 traffic patrols and 2 driver’s license checkpoints to the city’s streets, with the help of federal grants with the aim of lowering the number of accidents, according to a recent city staff report.
The city council also voted in September to approve the Lindauer Drive’s neighborhood’s and Walnut Street’s neighborhood’s plans to keep their local streets safer.
Those plans include adding two speed bumps and a no-right-hand turn sign to Lindauer Drive and placing two speed bumps, a speed sign, and three no-right-hand turn signs down Cypress Street.
City officials didn’t publicly discuss other neighborhoods during the most recent council meeting on this issue. But it has implied that other areas also already have traffic plans with the city website detailing these regions more specifically.
However, El Portal Drive’s neighborhood has been left without an official plan to help calm traffic.
The traffic calming committee that city officials established for this neighborhood can’t come to an agreement after a member brought up the idea of placing a no right-hand turn sign on the corner of El Rancho Drive and El Dorado Avenue during one of their meetings.
“Placing a no right-hand turn sign at this corner creates a blind spot for my neighbors who live on the opposite side of the street and will put their children’s safety in jeopardy,” continued Valencia during the meeting.
The owner of Kidz Rock, a children’s music school located along West Whittier Blvd, is also concerned about his students’ safety in that area.
“It’s like a race track here. There have been two collisions in the last month and a half. People are always trying to catch the light,” he explained in a phone interview.
He believes traffic patrols and checkpoints would be a big help to the issue he is seeing.
“I tell the parents that come here that it feels like everyone is very careless while driving in the morning to get to work and school…We could definitely use those patrols.”
Lieutenant Jose Rocha of the La Habra Police Department trusts that the patrols and checkpoints will help combat accidents around the city.
“Checkpoints and patrols are effective if it’s a combination of both. We measure this through the traffic safety index, which is the number of injury traffic collisions divided by the number of citations issued,” he began, “Anything above 25% means we are writing more citations than the number of collisions that are happening…Right now, our range is between 18% to 20%.”
Rocha said that immigration status would not be checked at these checkpoints.
Checkpoints are held within a specific area and are generally clearly marked. Police stop vehicles at these checkpoints to see whether or not a driver is drunk.
Yet one big flaw in checkpoints is that drivers can often reroute to avoid them, says the CDC.
On the other hand, patrols will take place in areas where there have been many accidents. Officers are on the lookout for drunk driving behaviors while patrolling.
Patrols can be effective in reducing DUI related crashes when they are highly publicized, according to the CDC, the thinking being that the more people know about areas where police will be patrolling, the less likely drivers will speed, or at least, speed in that area.
One CDC study found that, sobriety checkpoints decrease alcohol-related crashes by 17%, and all crashes by 10% to 15%.
Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), a national non-profit advocacy group, supports La Habra’s decision to implement more patrols and checkpoints.
MADD’S State Executive Director Patricia Rillera and Senior Program Manager Georgia Avilez emphasized the importance of these kinds of safety measures in an email interview.
“High visibility enforcement efforts accompanied by aggressive media coverage of enforcement efforts, public awareness, and education,” wrote Avilez, “are essential to drastically reduce drunk driving on our nation’s roadways.”
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