Coeur d’Alene no longer is in first place - and city officials couldn’t be happier.
For four years, the number of injury and fatal vehicle accidents was so high that Coeur d’Alene ranked first among Idaho cities its size in accidents per 1,000 residents.
A new report shows that the number of Coeur d’Alene accidents has decreased for the first time in recent history.
“In this case, it’s very nice not being in first place,” said Mayor Al Hassell.
Although the cause for the shrinking number of accidents in 1994 is not clear, Hassell and police Lt. Ron Hotchkiss gave part of the credit to the city’s new traffic team.
Road improvements, unusually mild weather and new traffic lights also may have influenced the numbers, officials said.
From 1989 to 1993, the number of fatal and injury accidents increased by 41 percent, from 193 to 273.
In 1994, that number dropped by 9 percent to 248 fatal and injury accidents, according to a report from the Idaho Transportation Department.
Coeur d’Alene now is in third place for serious accidents - behind Caldwell and Nampa, said Sherry Garey, ITD traffic specialist.
The ITD report also showed that the number of alcohol-related traffic accidents in Coeur d’Alene shrunk by 9 percent in 1994. Officers doled out 289 drunken driving citations in 1994 - 15 percent more than the previous year.
Not only did Coeur d’Alene’s accident numbers shrink, they did so while the number of vehicles cruising through the city continued to grow.
In 1993, more than 25,400 vehicles a day drove through the area of U.S. Highway 95 and Haycraft. By 1994, that number had grown to 27,700 vehicles a day.
The new traffic team’s goal is to reduce Coeur d’Alene’s accidents by 10 percent in three years - not with overzealous ticket writing, but through community education.
The team - Community Accident Reduction through Education - is made up of four officers and was in its infancy during 1994.
Officials said 1995 statistics, not yet available, will give a more comprehensive picture of the CARE team’s effectiveness.
However, Hassell said he has seen traffic slow down on Northwest Boulevard and other thoroughfares where CARE officers have concentrated their patrols.
Each CARE officer stops between 15 and 20 people a day.
“Our purpose is not to generate revenue, it’s to educate the public,” Hotchkiss said. “If we can obtain the same results through education, that’s what we’re hoping to achieve - and the statistics are proving that it’s working.”
Hotchkiss said CARE officers stop drivers for even minor violations and then talk to them about the traffic problems. But instead of doling out tickets only, they hand out a large number of warnings.
Since October, the four officers have handed out 1,089 citations and 2,685 warnings.
“I think it’s an effective way to alert people to problems,” said Jack Jones, a Coeur d’Alene man who was given a speeding warning.
Jones said warnings can be even more effective than tickets when it comes to educating some drivers.
“If I’d been issued a ticket I probably would have been a little bit upset over it,” he said. “I think a warning is a friendly way to tell the public to wake up.”
The CARE team also has a new computer system to keep track of every person they stop. People who get stopped more than once are almost guaranteed a ticket.
Coeur d’Alene is one of five Idaho cities receiving federal grants for programs to reduce accidents. According to the ITD report, all the cities except Coeur d’Alene reported an increase in accidents.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Coeur d’Alene’s injury and fatal accidents