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2007 Summer Drive Safely News Conference

Remarks from the Virginia State Police

By Colonel W. Steven Flaherty, Superintendent of the Virginia State Police, June 27, 2007

Thank you, Lon (Anderson), for that informative perspective.

Highway safety is at the core of our very existence as a State Police agency. As the volume of traffic increases with the onset of the summer travel season, our agencies will be doing our best to increase our presence out there, as well.

My personal philosophy: There's no better deterrent to illegal behaviors and habits on the road than by having a police car in every rear-view mirror! State and local law enforcement across the nation will be participating in various traffic safety campaigns throughout the summer months. Many of them you have heard of them before: Click It or Ticket and the anti-DUI effort, Checkpoint Strikeforce.

There's the Virginia State Police's Operation Air, Land & Speed… which we just conducted last Friday and Saturday on Interstates 95, 81, and 77. The border-to-border, interstate campaign netted more than 7,000 summonses and arrests in two days. Those motorists who fall into the "aggressive driver" category, beware! Next week, State Police and our partners in the Northern Virginia, DC, and Maryland region will be kicking off Wave II of Smooth Operator.

I've just listed several different transportation safety campaigns targeting various dangerous driving behaviors... yet they all have the same thing in common: saving lives through effective enforcement.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, last year's Fourth of July holiday period was the deadliest holiday period of the year – due to impaired driving. In Virginia, alone, we lost 22 men, women and children on our highways to traffic crashes during the 2006 Independence Day holiday period. The Virginia State Police and our state and local public safety partners will be doing our share next week and through the remainder of the summer to make our interstates, highways, and rural routes as safe as possible. But we in law enforcement can only do so much.

The other half of this equation requires the motoring public to do their part ... to always buckle up, comply with speed limits, never drive impaired, and limit driver distractions. Your life as a driver and passenger will depend on it. As will the lives of our law enforcement and first responder personnel working out there on your highways for your safety.

Virginia is one of 41 states that have adopted a "Move Over" law. In Virginia, if you're driving along and you come upon an emergency vehicle on the side of the road, then you have to – as required by law – either ...
1. Move over a lane and pass by safely and slowly.
2. Give some space and slow down as you pass the trooper, officer, deputy, EMS worker, or firefighter.

The Virginia State Police have lost numerous troopers throughout the years, and their deaths could possibly have been avoided had motorists exhibited courtesy and moved over and slowed down. Thanksgiving of last year, we lost Senior Trooper Robert Hill ... a 19-year veteran of the Department — who was conducting a traffic stop on the side of U.S. Route 460 in Southside Virginia when he was struck and killed by a motorist.

Then there are the numbers of troopers who have incurred debilitating injuries over the years. These hardworking individuals far outnumber the State Police personnel who were tragically killed in the line of duty due to the carelessness of a motorist. Many of them are forced to retire because their injuries are so severe and permanent that they are unable to fulfill their aspirations as a public safety professional.

Fortunately, not every trooper has to retire, but go on to rejoin the force and continue their career with the State Police…like Trooper John Houlberg…who joins us today. John was able to return to work one year and one week to the day he was struck by a hit-and-run driver on Interstate 95 in 2001. As Trooper Houlberg recounts his terrifying experience and his road to recovery…please keep in mind that according to FBI statistics, traffic crashes claim the lives of more police officers than any other cause of death in the line of duty, including shootings.

It is a staggering and sober statistic that the men and women of law enforcement every where must endure every day on the job…a job in which they put their lives on the line to save yours.