SHERIDAN — Vehicle operators within Sheridan’s city limits drive distracted more often than in years past, according to citations issued by Sheridan Police Department in October.
In October 2018, SPD documented 62 accidents within city limits. Forty of the 62 included citations for illegal actions while driving, and many of those actions pointed to distracted driving.
“A lot of the unsafe parking, following too close, is inattention of some sort,” SPD Lt. Travis Koltiska said. “Or rather there’s a distraction inside or outside the vehicle is often what we find causes that.”
Koltiska said distracted driving has become more of an issue with everything inside a car and with cellphones also taking drivers’ eyes away from the road.
State texting and driving laws make it illegal to send or read text messages while driving a car in Wyoming, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The state defines any activity that causes the driver to move his or her hand from the steering wheel or divert his or her attention from the road as a distraction.
The DMV also said cities enforce stricter cellphone rules that ban the use of handheld devices completely, although the city of Sheridan has not adopted that as a rule. For distracted driving, the ordinance establishes a $90 fine. Koltiska said distracted driving is difficult to prove, but if an accident occurs officers can cite the driver on other traffic violations.
Of the 40 citations for accidents in October thus far, the top cause was from unsafe backing and unsafe parking at eight citations each. Next were failure to maintain lane of traffic and failure to obey stop signs at four each.
Car insurance companies recognize any driver under 25 years old as more susceptible to auto accidents, but in Sheridan’s month overview the average age of individuals issued citations was 52 years old. No teenagers were cited for traffic violations as a result of an accident and only seven of the 40 cited in October were in their 20s. Koltiska said there was no significant correlation with age range and accident or type of accident.
Accidents with $1,000 worth of damage must be reported to the state.
“If there’s an issue with roadways and engineering, that they can make changes if they need to,” Koltiska said, explaining why accidents are tracked by the state. “They can reexamine the design of a roadway or an intersection.”
The minimum damage costs used to be reported at $500 when Koltiska began as an officer. It increased to $1,000 in the 1990s and has not increased since.
“It does not take much of anything to create $1,000 worth of damage to a vehicle,” Koltiska said.
Koltiska said the reporting rates have followed inflation of automobile repair accordingly, but he said if that’s what it takes to get accurate information to engineers, SPD is willing to do it.
State statute requires the Wyoming Department of Transportation to tabulate and analyze all accident reports and publish statistical information recording number and circumstances of traffic accidents annually.
Those state statistics showed a slight increase in crashes over a three-year period. Sheridan County, which includes SPD, Sheridan County Sheriff’s Office and Wyoming Highway Patrol reports, totaled 684 in 2015, 721 in 2016 and 727 in 2017. A 14-year look back at statistics show a high volume of crashes from 2004-2007 with the highest in 2006 at 910 crashes total in the county.
Sheridan County saw a dip in crashes from 2010 to 2012, with crash totals staying under 700. With the exception of 2015, Sheridan County has remained in the low 700s for crash totals since 2013.
It takes anywhere from one to three hours for police officers to complete those state crash reports, which digs into taxpayer money as SPD officers, who are paid out of a governmental budget, are on the clock completing paperwork. If accidents could be prevented, officers could utilize those hours spent completing crash reports doing other community policing and outreach.
“Almost all crashes are avoidable,” Koltiska said. “If we can change behavior and prevent crashes and make things safer, that’s what we want to do.”