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Eyes on the road

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By The Gazette

Driving along with a police car behind you can definitely be a stressful experience. Whether you’ve committed an infraction or not, just seeing that intimidating vehicle is enough to make even the most seasoned driver get a little antsy. Suddenly, doubt creeps in.
Was I speeding? Did I forget to signal? Do I have a tail light out?
Then, as soon as they appear, they are gone. Whew, no ticket.
Recently, The Gazette has received calls to The Hotline from readers expressing their irritation at being constantly watched and followed by the police.
Irritating, yes, but let’s consider the bigger picture for a moment.
One question we all ask when a cop car suddenly swerves out and begins following us for seemingly no reason:  "What on earth did I do?"
There are times when a driver is committing an infraction and is completely unaware, which warrants a heads-up from an officer. Broken speedometers can lead to unintended speeding, or perhaps a tail light suddenly went out on the car without the driver’s knowledge. These are safety concerns that need to be addressed. Sometimes, those blue lights are a friendly reminder.
Of course, even if a car is in perfect shape, there still might be a legitimate reason that a driver is suddenly getting tailed.
It’s a human nature (especially for the particularly policophobic) to ride your brakes when going past a stopped police car. Cops are used to this, and probably have a laugh about it, too.
But in some cases, this plants a seed of suspicion in an officer’s head. Radar guns have an impressive range on them, meaning that the officer probably knows the speed of a car before it even gets close enough for the driver to see the cop and reflexively apply foot to brake.
Put yourself in the officer’s place: it’s the middle of the night, a car is going along at a normal speed, then suddenly slows down to a crawl as it drives by a parked police car. Doesn’t that warrant a little suspicion?
There may also be cases where an investigation is in progress, and police are looking for a particular vehicle. Depending on a driver’s luck, that similarity in vehicle appearance could attract attention on the road, at least long enough for the officer to run a license plate and rule the driver out as a suspect.
It’s not pleasant to be under police scrutiny, and nobody likes spending their morning in traffic court, but contrary to popular complaint, the police are not "out to get you" if they follow your vehicle.
They are simply doing their job to keep their community safe. If people are noticing a heightened police presence on the road, that means that the area is a safer place to drive in.
In a recent report of 2012 activities, Galax Police Chief Rick Clark said he believes "that aggressive high visibility enforcement directly affects the accident rate."
It’s hard to argue with the statistics: In 2012, Galax officers issued 2,538 traffic summons and investigated 156 motor vehicle accidents. Compare this to the 2001 total of 968 traffic summons issued and 426 motor vehicle accidents.
Aggressive enforcement of seatbelt usage also shows that officers paying more attention to drivers is making a difference in safety. The city has been named one of the top localities for seatbelt usage, Clark said.
That’s a reason to be grateful, not irritated.
So, the next time you see a police car, stay calm and don’t jump to any conclusions... unless you’ve allowed that lead foot of yours to get the best of you.