By JASON ECK
A dramatic increase in traffic crashes in Tuolumne County has caught officers' attention.
And they're planning to do something about it.
The California Highway Patrol and Sonora Police Department have formed a task force to target aggressive driving.
There's more traffic these days, and officers said people commit all kinds of driving infractions, such as tailgating, crossing double-yellow lines and failing to yield the right of way, which contribute to the increase in crashes and deaths, CHP Officer Tom Wills said.
"The days of stopping and giving verbal warnings are probably going to cease," Wills said. "People are going to receive citations now."
Sonora Police Lt. Pat Tonegato said the media campaign will include both education and enforcement. Officers will promote good driving habits and explain what causes accidents.
A 2002 traffic study prepared for the county Public Works Department said "... traffic accidents in Tuolumne County are primarily the result of aggressive driving, mainly by males below the age of 45."
Last year's crashes outside Sonora city limits almost doubled the number recorded in 2000, and fatalities have more than tripled. These are the highest numbers of accidents and deaths since 1998.
The Jamestown area CHP office busier than any other similar-sized commands in the state handles up to 130 crashes a month outside city limits, Wills said.
Twenty-two people died in crashes last year the most since 1997, when 16 people died on Tuolumne County roads.
And Sonora has recorded the highest number of accidents among cities its size in the state for as long as Tonegato can remember.
Sonora sees few fatal crashes because speed limits are low within city limits, but impatient drivers in heavy traffic on small-town streets lead to a lot of fender-benders, as well as injury wrecks.
The city saw a 150-crash jump between 2001 and 2002 from 339 to 489.