Police Making Roads “Safe for the Holidays”
Officer Timothy Sharpe, a member of the Ocean City Police Department’s Traffic Safety Unit, watches for motor vehicle violations. By DONALD WITTKOWSKIOcean City Police Officer Timothy Sharpe was waiting at a red light Monday at the corner of Ninth Street and West Avenue when a white SUV pulled up next to him.Something immediately caught his attention about the SUV’s driver.“See, he’s not wearing a seatbelt,” Sharpe pointed out.A moment later, a black pickup truck made a turn onto Ninth off West and Sharpe noticed the same thing about that driver.“He wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, either,” Sharpe said.Police are paying extra attention to highway safety during the holidays because drivers often are not. Many times, motorists are focused on their Christmas shopping or holiday trips rather than the rules of the road, explained Lt. Brian Hopely, who heads the Ocean City Police Department’s Traffic Safety Unit.“Driver safety is not always on the minds of people during the holidays. But law enforcement is out there making sure that everyone is adhering to all motor vehicle laws,” Hopely said.Ocean City police are on the watch for distracted drivers as part of a holiday safety campaign that will continue through the new year. Dubbed “Safe for the Holidays,” the enforcement program targets a different type of roadway danger each week in hopes of getting the message out about the perils of distracted, careless or reckless driving.Last May, a Lansdale, Pa., man who was visiting Ocean City died after he was struck by a vehicle while crossing the intersection of Eighth Street and Bay Avenue. His wife also was hit, but survived her injuries. The driver was issued two motor vehicle summonses for failure to yield to a pedestrian and for careless driving, but did not face criminal charges.In response to the fatal accident, the crosswalks were reconfigured at the intersection of Eighth and Bay to make it safer for pedestrians.Hoping to make the roads safer for everyone, Ocean City police have been doing the “Safe for the Holidays” campaign for about 15 years.This year, it began the week of Nov. 11 by focusing on truck-route violations. Trucks are supposed to follow designated main routes in Ocean City that generally keep them out of residential neighborhoods while they are making their deliveries.During this week, the safety campaign will target seatbelt and child-restraint violations.Police will focus on careless driving during the week of Dec. 23. For the campaign’s final week of Dec. 30, there will be a crackdown on speeders.Lt. Brian Hopely, left, head of the Traffic Safety Unit, talks to Officer Timothy Sharpe about the “Safe for the Holidays” campaign.Separately, Ocean City police are participating in the New Jersey Division of Highway Safety’s “Drive sober or get pulled over” campaign targeting drunken drivers over the holidays.Hopely said drunken driving arrests have been declining in this area, which he attributed to the growing popularity of ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft. He also credited the John R. Elliott HERO Campaign, a program that promotes using designated drivers and is named in memory of a Navy ensign from Egg Harbor Township who was killed in 2000 by a drunken driver.Although police are serious about enforcing motor vehicle laws over the holidays, Hopely stressed that the officers aren’t taking a heavy-handed approach by simply handing out a flurry of tickets.“Our goal is not to write tickets,” he said. “Officers use discretion when they issue violations.”The idea is to heighten highway safety by educating the public through the “Safe for the Holidays” campaign.Sharpe, a member of the Traffic Safety Unit, said the campaign also takes into account other safety issues that may be overlooked by motorists, including burned-out headlights, worn tires and faulty windshield wipers.“We have to make sure that a vehicle’s equipment is good to go,” he said.During the week of Dec. 9, police were out checking on equipment and inspection violations, such as faulty headlights, brake lights and turn signals.Traffic safety is particularly important in a town that has a large number of young drivers attending Ocean City High School, both Sharpe and Hopely said.“Car crashes are the leading cause of death for 15- to 20-year-olds,” Hopely said.On Monday, Sharpe wasn’t out on the road long before he began spotting distracted drivers and motorists not wearing their seatbelts.“There are definitely violations all around,” he said. “People don’t even know they’re being distracted.”Just after he spoke, he saw a motorist on Bay Avenue who didn’t have his hands on the wheel. It was another form of distracted driving.“He was eating a soft pretzel with both hands,” Sharpe said, shaking his head in disbelief.Officer Timothy Sharpe is focusing on seatbelt and child-restraint violations this week.