By Dave Russell
First Sgt. Scott Smith of the N.C. Highway Patrol said business for his department is “the same as usual but a little different.”
One difference – people staying home means fewer vehicles on the road, which leads to fewer wrecks. That means more troopers working traffic.
“We’re able to be on line patrol more,” Smith said. “And we have challenged the troopers several weeks ago to concentrate on our main roads and be seen.”
Smith, whose troop covers Haywood and Jackson counties, said he wanted to squash a rumor that patrolmen were not stopping cars due to COVID-19 exposure.
“We wanted to make sure that that wasn’t the case, so we’re all still out here doing our jobs, stopping cars and writing tickets,” Smith said. “Wrecks are down across the state quite a bit. The weekly average used to be about 5,000-6,000, now we’re between the 1,500 and 2,000 mark.”
In spite of fewer cars on the road and fewer wrecks, fatal accidents remain about the same as before, he said.
“It’s very odd,” he said. “People are going to do what they do regardless of traffic on the road or not. It’s surprising that we have not had more bad and fatal crashes, due to the overall speed enforcement we’ve incurred.”
The number of vehicles traveling 25 mph over the posted speed limit has increased, he said.
Part of that has to do with fewer vehicles on the road.
“Out on the interstates, the open highways, we’re seeing that,” he said. “It’s the same across the state and the U.S. You see lots of reports of citations handed out for in excess of 100 mph.”
Troopers are taking standard COVID-19 precautions, he said.
“There’s nothing mandated that they have to wear masks, but they are available,” he said. “We give them plenty of hand sanitizer and all that stuff.”
When conducting a traffic stop, Smith sanitizes the driver’s license and his hands before handing it back to the driver, he said.
“I tell them, ‘Hey, I sanitized your license for you’ just to give them a little bit of assurance,” he said. “If we arrest somebody, of course we put a mask on them before we put them in the cars. They have to show up at jail with a mask on. Then the jail personnel have protocols they put in place, they come out and do a temperature check.”
Smith supervises five troopers in Jackson County currently.
“I’m down two,” he said. “And that’s huge. When seven is not enough to begin with, it’s real bad. They’ve had to pick up some slack, and if they get overwhelmed in Jackson, we launch them from Haywood to pick up the slack. Luckily, the calls for service have kind of went down a little bit, but now traffic is starting to pick up more. The number of people passing through from other states has increased.”