Suffolk County police are doubling their traffic patrols next week to target aggressive and distracted driving to prevent the expected increase in crashes following the end of daylight saving time.
Acting Police Commissioner Stuart Cameron on Friday announced the increased patrols, which will use the department's crash data to redirect police officers to parts of the county that have seen serious injury and fatal crashes, such as on the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway.
"We’re going to have a very large group of police officers able to move around the county on major roadways to do the traffic enforcement we believe will make our roads safer," Cameron said. "Motorists should expect to see a large group of police officers doing traffic enforcement on our major roadways."
Police will create a heat map to show where crashes have occurred and move patrols to those areas throughout Suffolk County.
Cameron said the county usually saw an increase in crashes in the days after daylight saving time ends because drivers were commuting in the dark.
"People who normally commute home from work at daylight are suddenly plunged into doing it in darkness, so it does take an adjustment," Cameron said.
The department’s crash analyst will use a monthly report to create a dashboard of roads that show patrol officers where dangerous driving and crashes may be occurring. It will include the time of day and traffic enforcement in the region.
The Suffolk Intensified Traffic Enforcement Team will be aided by an officer from each of the county’s seven precincts. They will be joined by officers with the Selective Alcohol Fatality Enforcement Team, looking for alcohol or drug-impaired drivers, putting a team of 20 officers on extra patrols through the holidays.
Cameron said the department saw the risks of impaired driving after Officer Timothy Thrane was struck early Wednesday morning by a man charged with driving while intoxicated on William Floyd Parkway.
"Anyone that drives around on our roads sees a small handful of people that drive aggressively and distracted. Most seriously of all a small handful of motorists drive impaired by drugs and alcohol," Cameron said. "The danger of that was driven home earlier this week when one of our members was critically injured by a drunk driver. We need to hold these people accountable who drive unsafely."
Drivers need to slow down, leave earlier to get to their destination and drive safely, Cameron said, adding police will be watching for speed, tailgating and reckless drivers weaving in and out traffic.
Officers also will be on the lookout for distracted drivers looking at their phone or texting while driving. Police may stop any driver seen using their phone, even if it is being used for music or mapping an address, said Deputy Inspector David Regina, who is commander of the highway patrol.
"We’re focusing on any of these high crash locations and any locations we’re having issues with," Regina said. "This county is so big and unfortunately we do have a lot of serious and fatal accidents."