Do you know someone who's received a traffic ticket in Cornelius during the past year?
It's a much higher probability that you do than a year ago, as the number of ticketed offenses for speeding, reckless driving and DWI has skyrocketed during the past 12 months.
What's the cause: More restrictive speed limits? Driver inattention? Substance abuse?
Chances are it's a combination of all three, coupled with intensified patrols by the Cornelius Police.
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"Traffic enforcement is the No. 1 requested police activity in our town," said Cornelius Police Chief Bence Hoyle. "All our traffic enforcement is citizen driven, and most of our specific enforcement actions are a direct result of a citizen requesting it."
The statistics recently provided by police tell the story of that enforcement. Over the past year in Cornelius, there has been a 98 percent increase in the number of ticketed speeding violations, a 133 percent increase in DWI incidents and a 182 percent increase in less serious alcohol-related citations.
Police officials credit the majority of the increase to a new five-officer traffic-enforcement team, established in part through a state grant.
The officers are dedicated solely to traffic enforcement and in areas where police receive the most complaints. The officers use radar enforcement in marked cars, using focused patrols in particular areas and general patrols in areas where they have had non-specific complaints.
Don't bother trying to find where these officers are stationed. The state-of-the-art radar and laser technology now used in Cornelius enables an officer driving down the street to measure the speed of cars traveling in either direction.
And don't look for an unmarked car hiding by the side of the road, either.
"We do not use unmarked cars," said Hoyle. "One of our goals is to be very visible, which has a deterrent effect."
The department's newest initiative is aimed at motorists who speed through school zones.
"We utilize laser speed guns, which allow the officers to leave the car completely," said Hoyle. "An officer can stand on the side of the road in plain clothes and designate speeds for another officer to stop and write a citation. We are actively employing that technology in school zones as we speak."
Speeding is clearly one of the most common infractions. There are plenty of places in town where motorists frequently exceed posted limits:
Jetton Road: The speed limit varies between 35 and 45 mph. It is an open roadway and motorists often exceed the limit. The limits were modified after a fatal accident several years ago in which speeding was a factor.
West Catawba Ave: The newly widened four-lane stretch between Interstate 77 and Jetton Road carries a 35 mph limit. Drivers not paying attention to the limit often will go much faster.
Jetton Road extension/Sefton Park Road: The town board has established a 25 mph speed limit, and again, inattentive motorists can easily exceed the limit. The presence of private schools, several turns and limited sight distance convinced the board to lower the limit on the west end of the road. Although the east end is wide open and straight, "We aim to keep a consistent speed limit on the entire lengths of roads," said Assistant Town Manager Andrew Grant. "It's generally safer and less confusing to the driver."
The traffic infractions can carry a hefty price tag. Speeding tickets cost as much as $50, plus $130 in court costs. Depending on the circumstances, points may be placed on the driver's license, which could increase insurance premiums.
Those who view the enforcement as a means to fortify town coffers might be surprised to learn none of the money goes to Cornelius. Pursuant to state law, all fines go to help fund schools, and the court costs go to the state to pay for judges.
How do motorists react when they are pulled over?
"A few will always be mad, but we find most of them are pretty honest about it," said Officer Vaughn Griffin, a member of the traffic enforcement team. "They usually will admit they were distracted or were thinking about something and didn't realize how fast they were going."
The distraction excuse, however, doesn't usually avoid a ticket. "Our job is to enforce the laws and make our town safer," said Griffin.