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With traffic fatalities mounting, Springfield officials act to deter speeding

Paul Tuthill
/
WAMC
Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood announces a high visibility enforcement effort against speeding at a press conference on Nov. 18, 2021

A high visibility enforcement effort is promised

With traffic fatalities at a five-year high, police in Springfield, Massachusetts have announced a high-visibility traffic law enforcement campaign.

As part of a new stepped-up effort to discourage speeding and distracted driving, police with radar will deploy to streets with high incidents of car crashes, parked cruisers will have emergency lights on to alert drivers to the police presence, there will be sign boards and social media posts, and surveillance cameras will be used to spot cars being driven erratically in real time so patrol cars can respond to try to prevent a crash.

Springfield Police Commissioner Cheryl Clapprood said drivers caught speeding won’t be given a break – they’ll get a citation not a warning.

“So, slow down and pay attention,” urged Clapprood.

There have been 21 people killed in traffic incidents in Springfield this year – with six fatalities this month alone. On November 5th, Clapprood and Mayor Domenic Sarno held a news conference to implore people to slow down and put away their cellphones when behind the wheel. Since that appeal there have been two more traffic fatalities.

“I have met and had very sad and emotional meetings with some of the families of these victims, it is heartbreaking, and I don’t want to continue to do that” Clapprood said.

Clapprood said starting with Thanksgiving week and continuing through December, traffic volume and the number of crashes historically increase.

“If distracted driving is a problem now, I see it being worse and more so as people have more on their minds as we approach the holidays,” Clapprood said.

Since September 1st, Springfield police have issued more than 600 speeding tickets. It’s not just that drivers are going over the posted speed limits, police say they’re going excessively fast.

Capt. David Martin of the police Traffic Unit said an 18-year-old driver was cited recently for going 73 miles-per-hour on State Street, which has a posted 30 mph limit.

The driver’s mother filed a complaint about the officer who wrote the citation.

“That’s a bad message to send,” Martin said. “You have to educate people, your loved ones, family, friends about the danger of speeding in the city. 73 mph that is highway speed.”

In one of the fatal crashes this month, police estimated the car was traveling 114 mph when it went out of control and smashed into a building.

Two of the fatalities this month were pedestrians and one a bicyclist. Lt. Mel Kwatowski of the Traffic Unit said people walking or biking need to stay alert.

“Also follow the rules of the road, that is incumbent upon you to do so,” said Kwatowski. “Be visible for your own safety.”

Taking aim at a familiar target, Sarno said the courts are too lenient when people appeal a traffic citation.

“We are issuing citations, making arrests and not getting the backup from the courts,” Sarno said.

The base fine for speeding is $105 and then escalates by $10 for every mile over the posted speed limit. A driver going 35 mph over the limit would face a $355 fine. The speeding conviction can also result in a surcharge on future auto insurance premiums.

The penalties for violating the hands free law are a $100 fine for the first offense, $250 fine for a second offense, and a $500 fine plus an insurance surcharge for 3rd and subsequent offense.

The record-setting tenure of Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno. The 2011 tornado and its recovery that remade the largest city in Western Massachusetts. The fallout from the deadly COVID outbreak at the Holyoke Soldiers Home. Those are just a few of the thousands and thousands of stories WAMC’s Pioneer Valley Bureau Chief Paul Tuthill has covered for WAMC in his nearly 17 years with the station.