TRUCKEE - The California Highway Patrol is rolling out a new enforcement program aimed at sending a wake-up call to careless drivers on Interstate 80.
As part of an effort to reduce the number of fatalities on the 100-mile stretch of I-80 between Reno and Auburn, the CHP is teaming up with the Nevada Highway Patrol to increase its patrols on days with heavy traffic from weekend travelers.
The new program is aimed at lowering the death toll from accidents on that portion of I-80.
"We are trying to minimize the number of fatal crashes on the corridor," said Sergeant Timothy Malone of the Truckee area CHP.
The program coordinates the Truckee, Gold Run and Auburn divisions of the CHP with the NHP on designated days when the highway is particularly congested.
"We've been saturating the highway (with officers) on high volume days, especially Sunday, when traffic is high and we have many violations," Malone said. He estimated that traffic increases by 30 to 40 percent on a typical weekend day.
Malone said he is pleased with the results since the program began in January, but notes that there have already been nine fatalities this year - five in the Auburn area, three in Gold Run, and one in Truckee. There were 17 last year.
But while the CHP is pulling dangerous drivers over for excessive speed, erratic driving and quick lane changes, Malone said that one of the biggest factors behind reckless driving is a driver's lack of sleep.
"Research is showing that quite a few accidents are caused by sleepy drivers," said Malone.
"(Visitors) come up to play all weekend and we have more people who are overly tired when they head back," he said.
Lack of sleep was the culprit in a fatality near Truckee in early May when three young men from the Bay area were returning from Reno, where they had spent the day gambling and drinking.
The sleep-deprived driver, Jason L. Crosby of Richmond, lost control and crashed the car into a barrier at Union Mills Grade where the car overturned, ejecting the front seat passenger, Howard Wilson of Vallejo, who was killed.
Wilson was not wearing a seatbelt. Crosby was later charged with vehicular manslaughter, reckless driving and driving with a suspended license.
Malone agrees that encouraging drivers to alter their lifestyles and get more sleep is difficult, but says that stricter enforcement is the surest way to minimize fatalities.
OnJuly 23, the seven officers staffing shifts between 6:30 a.m. and 11 p.m. wrote 80 citations, 35 parking violations, issued 16 verbal warnings and made one DUI arrest.
Other factors, including trucks and roadwork, don't appear to be as dangerous as driver exhaustion, said Malone.
Though he did not blame cell phones in particular, Malone did say that such devices are part of a growing number of driver distractions.
Malone said that the next enforcement day will be Aug. 6 to coincide with the end of the Hot August Nights weekend.
"That's going to be a heavy weekend, especially westbound," he said. "People should be more refreshed. They should take the time to get some rest, and use multiple drivers."
The CHP intends to continue the program through the end of the year and possibly into 2001.