SPD sign

SPD officer Andrew Wilson, left, and Sgt. Greg Guffey, right, show off the largest of the electronic signs the police department will use to combat speeding. This sign will be placed along larger roads, like state roads.

The Somerset Police Department (SPD) has launched a new traffic safety initiative designed to increase awareness of local speed limits and ultimately reduce the number of people who speed.

Named Operation Awareness, the initiative will utilize speed measuring devices placed strategically in high- and low-traffic areas to reduce speeding violations and, most importantly, save lives. SPD has invested in radar signs that will display speed and collect data for the department. While small signs will be placed on speed limit signposts on city streets, a large sign will be mounted on a custom trailer donated to the department by Somerset manufacturer Gatormade Trailers.

Somerset Police Chief William Hunt said Operation Awareness offers multiple benefits to the community — reducing the number of motor vehicle collisions, reducing the number of injury and fatal accidents, reducing the amount of property damage that results from collisions, improving drivers’ awareness of their speed, and enabling Somerset Police to be more efficient and economical with resources while making the city safer.

“It is our hope with the use of these speed measuring devices and their ability to slow drivers over time, it will decrease the number of tickets written while reducing accidents and saving lives,” Hunt said.

Hunt said the signs were purchased with versatility in mind. The small signs will aid on streets that do not have shoulders where a radar trailer could be parked. SPD will target local streets where officers receive a high number of speeding complaints.

The custom radar trailer can be used on wider streets and state highways. State highways normally have shoulders or other off-the-road locations where a radar trailer can be parked and left for a period of time, Hunt said. The trailer will be used to collect data and help change human behavior to reduce vehicle accidents due to speeding.

On state highways, speed not only contributes to accidents but greatly increases the severity of damage and injury, Hunt said. He pointed to studies that reinforce the idea that when drivers see a radar speed trailer, their natural reaction is to slow down — one reported that drivers slow down between five to 11 mph when they see a radar speed trailer; another showed there are lasting effects from radar trailers, as drivers continued to travel through the same area at slower speeds even after the trailer had been removed.

The speed signs will use StreetSmart software to compile datasets and rely on radar technology to determine speeds. SPD will deploy the speed trailer for one to two weeks and gather statistical data. Data recorded will include vehicle counts, highest speeds, and the peak time of day and day of the week for speeding at locations throughout the city.

This will aid SPD in allocating resources more effectively and efficiently, Hunt said.

“With this data, we will be able to identify if, when, and where there is a speeding problem then allocate resources as needed,” Hunt said. “This prevents us from randomly assigning officers to work traffic in an area where a problem does not exist and ensures the appropriate staffing is maintained.”

Being more efficient also positively impacts the department’s ability to fight crime and execute crime prevention strategies, Hunt said.

“The impact of this program will be far broader than merely slowing drivers down,” Hunt said. “Operation Awareness will help guide our future planning and growth.”

Hunt thanked the Somerset-Pulaski Economic Development Authority (SPEDA) and its president and CEO, Chris Girdler, for helping facilitate Operation Awareness, and Gatormade for its support of community safety through donating a trailer.

“Programs like Operation Awareness, Shepherds Watch and others cannot be accomplished alone,” Hunt said. “SPD relies on community partnerships, and we are grateful for the help of Gatormade and SPEDA in launching Operation Awareness. Mr. Girdler and I realize the importance of community safety in influencing economic development recruitment.”

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