BAY COUNTY Fla. (WMBB) — This year the Florida Highway Patrol has seen an increase in fatal accidents, and in order to educate drivers on safety, they are bringing in help from agencies across the panhandle.
This is a part of “Operation Southern Shield” – a joint effort between southern states to get drivers to slow down, buckle up and put down the distractions.
Statistics from the FHP show in the years 2019 and 2020 there were a total of 62 fatal crashes each in Bay County. So far in 2021, there have been 43.
Lieutenant Jason King with FHP said this is 8 more than we had this time last year.
“Doesn’t sound like a large number to most people but to us, one more than what it was last year is too many,” King said.
He said this alarming fact is a driving force behind their participation in Operation Southern Shield. King said many parents worry about their children driving and being seriously injured or worse being killed. He said everyone needs to play a role in educating.
The rules of the road seem simple, but it’s too often that drivers disregard the law.
“Put your distractionary device down, have a plan for where you’re going with the weather, pay attention to your speed, and always wear your seatbelt,” King said.
FHP is not the only organization along for the ride. The Florida Department of Transportation, The Bay County Sheriff’s Office, and The Jackson County Sheriff’s office are joining the push too.
Patrol Captain Kevin Arnold with The Jackson County Sheriff’s Office said they do not go one week without receiving calls about someone speeding or running through intersections.
“We need people to slow down and pay attention to what they are doing,” Arnold said. “We’re trying to save lives.”
Officials say two of the biggest factors contributing to the increase in fatal accidents are people not wearing a seatbelt and texting and driving. This week all agencies involved will be on high alert to put a stop to that.
“Could be on the interstate, could be on 231, could be on 388 or 390,” King said. “So we are just trying to pick the areas that we can really focus on showing a presence and taking the enforcement action to save lives.”
In Jackson County, they have been ranked in the top five counties their size for teen fatal accidents in Florida. In Bay County, King said speeding violations have doubled since last year. That is one thing they will be on the lookout for this week.
Phillip Gainer, the District Three Secretary with FDOT, said they set the speed limits where they are for a reason.
“The speed limits are not suggestions, they are requirements and these folks are going to make sure in the next week that they are enforced,” Gainer said.
Law enforcement says it is important families are having conversations about safety at home to eliminate distractions and room for disaster.
This week FHP will be on high alert due to the promotion of Operation Southern Shield. However, these lessons are to be enforced every day of the year.