By JOSHUA WOLFSON
Car accidents within Sonora were down significantly the first five months of this year, while traffic citations and drunken driving arrests skyrocketed, police statistics show.
Under direction from Police Chief Duane Ellis, officers have targeted driving behaviors that lead to collisions, including driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, speeding and ignoring stop lights, said Lt. Patrick Tonegato.
"Our goal is to target the problem drivers, to correct bad habits and be highly visible so that people slow down, pay attention and get through the day safely," Tonegato said.
An increase in police staffing from last year also has contributed to the rise in arrests and citations.
"The public can expect a high level of enforcement," Tonegato said.
Compared with the first five months of 2002, Sonora has from this January to May experienced:
a 38 percent drop in total car accidents, from 328 to 204;
a 293 percent rise in DUI arrests, from 28 to 110;
a 164 percent rise in traffic citations, from 294 to 777.
"We are hoping this is a trend that continues," Tonegato said.
Police also post a mobile radar trailer on streets where they have received complaints from citizens about speeding.
Part of the police department's effort to correct poor driving habits and reduce accidents includes enforcing mechanical violations, like broken brake lights or cracked windshields, said police Sgt. Glenn Roberts.
"If we get the unsafe cars off the road, the accident rate goes down," he said.
For years, Sonora had the highest injury accident rate in the state for a city of its size, Tonegato said, due in part to the city's narrow streets and heavy traffic flow, in addition to poor driving habits.
Sonora can be a challenging city to navigate by car because of its topography, its old roads and the state highways that run through it, City Administrator Greg Applegate said.
Given these constraints, a city goal is to get drivers to slow down.