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Township police Officer Ted Kukich activated the lights and sirens in his unmarked car to chase down a driver Tuesday on State Route 30 in North Huntingdon.
Once the ticket was written and the recipient drove off, it wasn't long before Kukich nabbed another.
The vast majority of the township's traffic — and crashes — are along Route 30, Kukich said. That's one reason the heavily traveled thoroughfare is a top priority in the statewide Aggressive Driving Enforcement and Education Program, which will have more than 200 police departments stepping up traffic enforcement through April 30.
The PennDOT-sponsored annual program provides grant money to local police departments and state police barracks to pay officers for extra traffic details.
“A lot of departments are smaller; traffic (enforcement) is hard for them. They need these extra resources,” said PennDOT spokesman Jay Ofsanik.
PennDOT will spend $82,925 on the program in Region 6, which comprises 12 Southwestern Pennsylvania counties, including Westmoreland, Allegheny and Fayette.
In Westmoreland County, the Ligonier Township, Murrysville, North Huntingdon, Rostraver and Washington Township police departments will receive grants through the program.
“Without the state being able to give us this money, the township wouldn't be able to (do traffic patrols) at certain times of day or certain days of the week,” Kukich said.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration defines “aggressive driving” as a combination of two or more unsafe driving practices — such as speeding, swerving between lanes, passing illegally, following too closely or running red lights. Crashes caused by aggressive driving typically are responsible for two or three deaths a year in Westmoreland, according to PennDOT.
The agency uses data about crashes to decide where to focus its money and efforts.
“Route 30 is one of our target areas,” Ofsanik said. “Unfortunately, people do have a tendency to push on 30. It's busy; it's crowded.”
Kukich said technology has given officers more ways to monitor and control unsafe driving. Speed boards — the roadside signs that display the speed of passing cars — can store traffic data that police can study to identify locations and times of speeding.
But Kukich thinks the state can do more to help officers. Under Pennsylvania regulations, only state police are allowed to use radar guns. Local departments use stopwatches.
The state Senate passed a bill that would allow local police to use radar guns, but the bill has yet to pass the House.
State police also are getting involved in the aggressive driving enforcement program, expanding their traffic patrols in areas not covered by local departments.
“Route 30 is our biggest area of concern, and we're looking to reduce accidents and injury-related crashes on that stretch of road,” said Sgt. Mike Borosh of the Greensburg barracks.
The program also funds safety programs in schools to teach students the rules of the road.
The goal is to get drivers to slow down and put things in perspective, Ofsanik said. Aggressive drivers put themselves and others at risk in exchange for very little time saved, he said.
“You passed four cars on a double-yellow line just to get to Sheetz 30 seconds before me,” he said.
Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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