For the past several years PCPD has been working to tackle the ideology of its community in hopes of reducing the risky driving throughout town.
Driving in Plant City may not have the bumper to bumper traffic found in Tampa or Orlando, but it is far from a rural oasis.
Roads are congested, basic traffic laws are routinely violated and it has become common to pass at least one accident on the way to work. Plant City Police are changing the way they tackle rogue drivers in hopes of beginning to alter the mindset of those getting behind the wheel each day.
“In 2017 there were 1,703 total crashes, in 2018 we were able to reduce that to 1,670,” Sgt. Al Van Duyne, PCPD spokesman, said. “We’ve switched our focus a little too with regard to tickets and warnings. Chief (Duncan) shared with us that he is a big proponent of educating divers, but not necessarily through enforcement. For many years that was our motto. By and large most officers buy into chief’s motto.”
If it is someone’s first time being stopped odds are they’re going to get away with a warning and a road safety lecture. It saves the driver hundreds of dollars and the hope is it helps foster trust with local law enforcement. That trust could be pivotal later on if someone observers dangerous drivers or is involved in an accident as PCPD wants people to be comfortable calling and keeping them in the loop.
“Your ideology of police departments might not be that good,” Van Duyne said. “Across the country satisfaction with police departments is at an all-time low. We don’t want that here. That’s why we’re trying to show we care about people’s safety, not tickets.”
He said PCPD doesn’t have a quota for number of tickets to be issued, the officers simply have to prove they are working. A warning registers a stop as much as a ticket does, so many are trying to use the stop as a means to educate the driver on the importance of safe driving. After all, they’re the ones that respond to crashes day in and day out.
The number one crash scenario in Plant City is due to careless driving, Van Duyne said. Drivers tend to get into incidents most frequently around intersections. They fail to see slowing or stopped vehicles and get into a collision. He said eight out of 10 of the crashes they head out to are fender benders or collisions at stoplights.
Though Plant City’s population rests around 40,000 residents, its roads are used as thoroughfares for a large number of people heading to work, school or to play. Texting and driving is one of the fastest growing issues in the nation. However, in Florida it is nearly impossible to enforce. Without a warrant, police can’t take and check your cellphone so if a driver claims they didn’t do it there is no way to prove they did.
“Another cause is failure to yield,” Van Duyne said. “We see that a lot near HCC on Park Road. If you’re going south and turn left into HCC and someone is going northbound on Park you’re now in the middle of flowing traffic.”
An issue rather unique to Plant City is the number of wrong way drivers throughout the town. Police are constantly being diverted to the Wendy’s on Baker Street. Someone decided they are in the mood for a burger and they just turn in, not realizing the street it lies on is for one-way traffic.
Van Duyne got a complaint from a woman near Franklin who complained about a stream of wrong-way drivers. He set up a wireless traffic box and had it record traffic for a week. Approximately 40,000 cars drove through in that span and of those at least 80 were headed the wrong direction.
Reynolds Street is another haven for wrong-way drivers. City Manager Bill McDaniel said he frequently sees people pulling out at the intersection at City Hall and entering the wrong direction onto Reynolds.
Despite the fact that there are giant signs saying “Wrong Way” up and down the street the drivers rarely seem to realize they’re making a mistake until a line of cars comes barreling toward them.
A small fraction of those making the mistake are impaired drivers who are leaving local bars and heading back to town. Their judgement is impaired and they blow by the signs. Many others are out-of-towners who are not familiar with the area. Regardless, it’s a dangerous mistake. PCPD often has nightshift keep their eyes peeled when in the area to help reduce the potentially deadly traffic.
Outside of traffic violations, one of the major issues PCPD has with vehicles throughout Plant City is the increasing number of illegal window tints. State statues require windows allow more than 28 percent of light in on the side windows. Back side windows and rear windows must allow more than 15 percent of light in.
It’s as much a safety issue for officers as it is for those on the road. As an officer pulls a vehicle over they have to walk up to the vehicle passing the back windows before leaning over the side window. If the windows are so dark they can’t see through them Van Duyne said that becomes a major safety concern.
Officers can’t see if there are people in the backseat or if they’re armed if the tint is out of regulation. At night especially it becomes a major concern. Even to other commuters tint can be deadly. The regulations are in place for a reason and Van Duyne said having something darker can prevent the driver from properly seeing adjoining lanes. They may believe the road is clear and switch lanes or pull out just to collide with another car.
“We routinely get people with tint lower than 10 percent,” Van Duyne said. “We technically have the authority to issue violations for each window violation, for example if you drive a Tahoe you can get a ticket for the front windows, the passenger back windows and the windows in the very back not to mention the windshield if that’s tinted. We generally try not to beat people up and we’ll give a warning or just one ticket.”
Van Duyne said there are even a couple of company vehicles from one business in town that all sport illegal tints. They were pulled over and given warnings, but when nothing changed Van Duyne said the next stops featured tickets. The business owner was less than a happy camper, but Van Duyne said it’s the law and that he would “run out of money before they ran out of tickets.”
There are a few medical conditions that provide exceptions and those who have documentation should carry it in their vehicle.
Another major issue includes improper child seat regulations with drivers. Frequently when cars are stopped for DUI’s or routine traffic stops Van Duyne said they find a child not properly restrained in the vehicle.
It’s something that never fails to catch officers off guard, Van Duyne said, and one they take very seriously.
“So much of what we see are simple, avoidable issues,” Van Duyne said. “It’s time people start paying attention behind the wheel. This can get deadly if you aren’t careful.”