CULLMAN, Ala. – On Thursday, Cullman County Sheriff Matt Gentry, Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper, Hanceville Police Chief Bob Long and Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) Senior Trooper Chuck Daniel came together at the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office for a press conference to promote road safety and new traffic laws going into effect soon.
Gentry opened the presentation by warning watchers that texting while driving is “just as dangerous as being intoxicated or impaired,” and that even people who have legally prescribed drugs should be aware of the potential effects of those medications before they try to drive after taking them.
Daniel shared statewide statistics:
- As of Aug. 28, State Troopers have worked 21,000 crashes on Alabama roads.
- Troopers average a call to a wreck every 16 minutes. Daniel noted that this number has been typical “for the last four or five years.”
- Crashes in 2019 have resulted in over 8,200 injuries.
- This year’s crashes have led to 350 fatalities, so far.
- Cullman County has seen 11 traffic fatalities this year.
- The county saw 53 fatalities in 2017 and 2018 together.
Daniel said, “These are families. These are families that have lost loved ones, and it has a lasting effect, not just on the families. It has a lasting effect on troopers and on sheriffs’ deputies and on police officers when we have to–when we’re assigned the task of notifying families at the end of that crash that their loved one’s not coming home.”
Daniel referred to the period from Memorial Day at the end of May to Labor Day at the beginning of September as the 100 deadliest days on Alabama roads, and told watchers that law enforcement officers could get through the Labor Day weekend without having to deal with tragedies if:
- Drivers and passengers wore safety restraints
- Drivers obeyed speed limits
- Drivers avoided distractions
- Drivers avoided intoxication
New laws going into effect
Daniel took time to talk about the two new traffic laws starting Sept. 1:
- Drivers will be required to drive in the right lane on four lane highways or the right two lanes on wider roads, and will only be allowed to drive in the left lane for up to 1.5 miles while passing. Troopers will give warnings during the first 90 days, then they will begin issuing tickets.
- All persons in a car will be required to wear seat belts. Even back seat passengers can be ticketed for failure to wear restraints.
Cullman chief warns about distracted driving
Culpepper told watchers that the city of Cullman had seven traffic fatalities in 2018, “the most I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been with the department for 41 years.” He touched on commonly listed causes of accidents–following too closely, running stop signs and lights at intersections–but zeroed in on what he termed “a common denominator in just about every one of our accidents,” – distracted driving.
Said Culpepper, “You’re not paying attention; you’re distracted, looking at your cell phone, and you run into somebody because you don’t know they’re stopping. Somebody in front of you in the turn lane is on their phone. The light changes, the turn signal; they make it, you don’t, because they hesitated a second or two because they were distracted. And it frustrates you, the driver, so then you go through the light or you’re driving a little bit faster.”
Long told watchers that Hanceville has seen 74 wrecks so far this year, and noted that distracted driving seems to be the major culprit in those incidents. He said that Hanceville officers have begun taking a more aggressive approach to drivers not wearing seatbelts, and called on area residents to put away cell phones and avoid distractions.
Question on 278/831 intersection
During the question and answer time, Gentry was asked about the intersection of U.S. Highway 278 and County Road 831, which has received much attention recently. The sheriff told reporters that local law enforcement and ALEA have been talking to the area’s legislative delegation who are working with the Alabama Department of Transportation to find a long-term solution. He encouraged drivers on CR 831 to look carefully before pulling out onto the highway and drivers on Highway 278 to slow down as they approach the intersection.
County roads and highways particularly dangerous
Answering a question about dangerous roads, Daniel pointed out that the official speed limit on county roads is 45 miles per hour, though many drivers assume the limit is 55. He noted that such roads are often narrow and winding, and the geography makes fast-moving vehicles prone to crossing center lines, leading to head-on collisions.
See a video of the full press conference at www.facebook.com/CullmanTribune/videos/742737466186362/.
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