After two years of high death tolls, Mesa’s traffic fatalities have plummeted to the lowest number the city has seen in a long time. Some credit the decrease to a traffic program designed to make people drive safely, and others say it’s just good luck.
But so far this year, Mesa has seen 25 fatal traffic crashes, which is only about half the number that occurred the previous year. The figure is especially low in comparison with 2005, in which deadly crashes spiked to 64.
Mesa police spokesman detective Chris Arvayo said he believes the city’s Operation Drive and Arrive program — started in late 2005 — deserves partial credit for the decrease.
“Basically what it did was it targeted the top intersections for injury collisions or fatalities, and what we did was ... cops and city employees were given this information and we would do enforcement in those areas,” Arvayo said.
The program brought a high police presence to areas authorities identified as posing higher risks for crashes. Drivers caught violating traffic laws would be pulled over by an officer, cited and educated.
“We would hit those areas pretty hard enforcement-wise,” Arvayo said, “then you’d notice reductions, then they’d go up in another area and we’d hit that.”
National fatal crash statistics for 2007 won’t be available until next year, but in 2006, the U.S. average for deadly crashes was 14.24 per 100,000 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That same year, Mesa had 13.41 fatal crashes per 100,000 people, and this year that number has dropped to about five.
“Nationally, the other cities of our size are in the mid-60s per year,” said Mesa Vehicular Crimes detective Joey Catone. “For a city our size to fall into 24, 25 this year, we’re just really lucky.”
Catone has worked in Mesa’s traffic unit for six years, with five of those spent on a motorcycle. Currently, he gets called out to reconstruct major crash scenes. The sharp decrease in fatal crashes this year has been a reprieve for Catone and other Mesa detectives, who spent the past two years trying to keep up.
“To hear these guys describe it,” he said, “you couldn’t even finish one case because you were getting called out all the time.”
Catone said he believes that when traffic officers are out on the streets in high numbers, interacting with the public — such as for Operation Drive and Arrive — other drivers are more likely to slow down and obey laws.