JOHNSON CITY - Despite what appears to be an increase in traffic in Johnson City, the number of crashes here in 2006 was the lowest it's been in at least five years.
Officials with the Johnson City Police Department are attributing the decrease to a number of factors, including more motorist awareness and increased visibility of police enforcement.
"They kind of get the hint when they see us pulling people over," said JCPD Officer James Brown, who spends much of his day patrolling the portion of Interstate 26 that lies within city limits. "Nowadays, speeding through is not going to help you. All you do is catch up to more traffic. The people who speed end up sitting in the same place at the same time as those who go the speed limit."
In 2006, Johnson City saw 3,476 traffic crashes - a 9 percent decrease from the number of wrecks recorded the previous year. Crashes involving injuries were down more than 7 percent and fatal crashes also dropped in 2006.
While officials are happy to see the significant reduction in crashes, they plan to continue on the same path in 2007 by stepping up enforcement.
Johnson City police are taking a particular interest in stopping motorists from following too closely -the most common cause of crashes in 2006.
"If you are driving down the road and you see someone running up behind you, the first thing it does is it scares you. You are afraid that car is going to hit you," said Johnson City Police Chief John Lowry. "Then after you get over being scared you think, 'Get out of the back seat of my car already.' "
To help prevent unnecessary wrecks, officials recommend drivers always maintain three seconds between their cars and the cars ahead of them.
"If they follow the three-second rule, then they have time to see something and react to it," Lowry said. "That would make a big difference."
Following too closely contributed to 32 percent of wrecks last year and Lowry estimates as much as 50 percent of those accidents included driver distractions that prevented drivers from recognizing the vehicle ahead of them was slowing down or stopping.
"Driving is a full time job," Lowry said. "Drivers are encouraged to reduce the number of distractions inside their vehicles. Talking on cell phones, eating, drinking and other activities take a driver's focus away from driving."
Other major contributing factors to crashes in 2006 included failure to yield, speeding, impaired drivers and failure to signal.
With those factors in mind, officers will be hitting the streets this year aiming to make 2007's statistics even lower.
"The Johnson City Police Department is dedicated to making streets and highways safer for motorists," Lowry said. "National statistics show that municipalities with strong traffic enforcement programs are successful in reducing the number of crashes in their jurisdiction and we intend to continue strict traffic law enforcement programs."