December 16, 2011: Transcript of New York State Police First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Gagan

TOP December 16, 2011: Transcript of New York State Police First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Gagan

Read the transcript from the web chat with New York State Police First Deputy Superintendent Kevin Gagan on December 16, 2011.

Kevin Gagan said:
Hello. My name is Kevin Gagan and I am the First Deputy Superintendent of the New York State Police. I’m pleased to be live with you today on this web chat to discuss Holiday Road and Driving Safety. This is an important topic as traffic related deaths and injuries account for more deaths and injuries than from violent crime. Traffic casualties do not discriminate. They hit all segments of society. Driving during the holidays can be stressful. During the holidays, schedules are often tighter than usual. All of us are guilty of cramming too much into short windows of time. Heavier than normal traffic volume and potential bad weather exacerbate the pressures we place on ourselves. These and other factors make planning even short trips more important. Build extra time into your trip plans to allow for delays. Getting there safely is far more important than getting there on time. With that, let’s get started.

Question from Denise in Chautauqua :
I would like to know that since it is illegal to talk on a cell phone while driving when the police are going to actually start enforcing the law? I see people driving all the time using their cellphones.

Kevin Gagan said:
I agree cell phone use is too prevalent. We are enforcing the law. Last year the State Police issued nearly 40,000 tickets (3.5% of total tickets) for cell phone violations.

Question from John in Buffalo:
Everyone knows that there are Holiday office parties in the next few weeks, many involving alcohol. What are the State Police doing differently to combat this?

Kevin Gagan said:
Impaired driving is a continuous priority for every trooper on patrol. In addition, beginning December 16, the State Police will conduct sobriety checkpoints and saturation enforcement details statewide. 24 of these will be held during the 2-week period, to supplement the efforts of regular patrols.

Question from Anonymous in Josh :
Why are the state police allowed to stop motorcyclists and inspect them even when they have broken no laws?  Isn’t this discriminatory?

Kevin Gagan said:
The State Police began doing motorcycle checkpoints in an attempt to mitigate a rapid increase in the number of motorcycle crashes, injuries, and deaths in recent years. The checkpoints are no more discriminatory than those imposed on other vehicles to ensure seat belt use or on commercial vehicles to ensure compliance with trucking regulations. In each case, there is a well defined hazard we are attempting to address. The inconvenience to most motorcyclists is minimal. The State Police use of these checkpoints was recently upheld by the U.S. District Court.

Question from Angela in Oneonta:
Are blue headlights legal?

Kevin Gagan said:
It depends. All lights need to be approved for use by the Commissioner of Motor Vehicles. The high intensity display lamps that are standard on some of the luxury class vehicles are approved. While these have a slightly blue hue to the human eye, they are white light in a technical sense. However, there are many “counterfeit” luxury headlamps that do not meet standard and are illegal. These are typically those that look very blue.

Question from Gregory in Scotchtown/orange county:
Almost every holiday, I open a newspaper and read about, a drunk driver killing innocent victims. How can I travel and avoid my chance at a drunk driver colliding in to me. Should I travel early in the day?

Kevin Gagan said:
Keep in mind, drunk driving can happen any time of day. Always wear your seatbelt, and drive defensively. You can’t change another driver’s behavior, only your own response to it.

Question from Deanna in Mohawk Valley:
Some of the new headlights are blinding. Are these bright lights illegal?

Kevin Gagan said:
All headlamps must be adjusted to avoid dangerous glare or dazzle. A police officer can ticket a motorist for headlights that are excessively blinding.

Question from Michael in NYC :
My son drives home from college from Florida and only stops for gas.  How often should drivers take a break?

Kevin Gagan said:
It is recommended that drivers take a break anytime they find their mind wandering from the task of driving. If you can’t remember what you passed in the last 5 minutes, or where you are in your trip, this is an indication you need a break. Drivers should also make sure they are well rested before they start. A fatigued driver’s reactions are equal to that of a drunk driver, and coffee will not improve those skills; only rest will.

Question from LINDA in LAKE PLACID:

Kevin Gagan said:
Generally, no. Snow tends to scatter light, and bright lights result in more scatter, which impedes depth of vision. Fog lamps may improve vision under some circumstances, but it is essential that drivers adjust their speed to the conditions of visibility to ensure that they are able to navigate around hazards.

Question from Sam in Buffalo:
What should I do if I see a police car on the shoulder, but I can’t move over because there is another car in the left lane?

Kevin Gagan said:
Slow down and use caution. All drivers, even in the left lane, are required to slow down. Drivers are only required to move over if it is safe to do so. Beginning January 1, this same protection will also be applied to tow trucks and vehicles displaying amber flashing lights.

Question from Maria in Nassau:
Are troopers required to wear their big hats when they issue a ticket?

Kevin Gagan said:
The Stetson hat is a distinctive part of our uniform, but there is no legal or procedural requirement to wear one to enforce the law.

Question from Josh in Bronx:
     I see Troopers using cell phones all the time when they are driving.  Why don’t they have to abide by the same laws as everyone else?

Kevin Gagan said:
Police officers are permitted to use mobile devices in performance of their official duties. Nonetheless, the state police has issued internal policies to further clarify how and when they should be used when driving.

Question from Melissa in Westchester:
    I hate wearing my seatbelt, but do it because of the law.  Can’t I wear it under my shoulder?

Kevin Gagan said:
No. By wearing the belt under your shoulder, you risk being more severely injured in the crash. For traffic safety purposes, you need to wear it properly. Try adjusting your seat height or distance from the steering wheel. Otherwise you could face a ticket or worse if you are involved in a crash.

Question from Anonymous:
What happened to the failure to keep left rule on the interstate? Shouldn't tractor trailer trucks be confined to specific roads and a 55mph speed limit? Why do State troopers find it necessary to exceed the speed limit continually? I think if those 3 things were managed the highways would be safer?

Kevin Gagan said:
The keep left rule is still a rule. However, there is no enforcement provision in NY State's Vehicle and Traffic Law. Differential speed limits have not improved safety in other states where they have been used, but they have a negative impact on commerce. Troopers shouldn't speed when not responding to an emergency. What you see may or may not be responding to a complaint or emergency which warrants an expeditious response. Keep in mind things are not always what they appear.

Question from BJ in Central New York:
With the high number of commercial vehicles on the road during the holiday season mixed with the increased travel, is there anything out of the ordinary being done for safety.

Kevin Gagan said:
The State Police has a Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Unit that specializes in laws governing trucks and commercial busses. It is one of our busiest traffic enforcement units. The majority of crashes involving commercial vehicles are caused by the actions of the driver of a passenger vehicle, and that is why it is important to enforce laws for ALL vehicles.

Question from BJ in Central New York:
Can commercial vehicles be stopped for safety inspections without a reason to be stopped (no probable cause)?

Kevin Gagan said:
Yes. By federal regulation. However, commercial busses can only inspected at point of origin or destination.

Question from Pam:
My dad drives a tractor–trailer for a living. Cars are allowed to whip in and out in front of my rig all day and troopers do nothing about it. Why are they only looking for speeders?

Kevin Gagan said:
We don’t only look for speeders, but you are correct in that it is extremely dangerous to drive in the blind spot of a truck, or to make lane changes in front of one. The fact is, most people don’t drive recklessly when they see a police car, but we have begun deploying special unmarked traffic enforcement vehicles, which should be more effective at enforcing this type of behavior as well as cell phone use while driving.

Question from Susan in Buffalo:
I am traveling from Buffalo to Pelham for Christmas. My dates are flexible. When would be the best time to travel? How might I check travel routes ahead of time?

Kevin Gagan said:
We refer people to and click on traffic conditions. This website is continually updated by NYSDOT and contains info on incidents/closures; weather alerts; winter advisory travel and speed reductions. Other states offer this service too. You can access it by changing NY to another state abbreviation.

Question from CAROL in ROTTERDAM:
My question-statement: in order for the traffic to flow through the tolls, would it be possible to change the speed limit from 5 miles an hour, why don't they change all of the EZ pass limit to at least 20 miles. I noticed when there is only 1 20 EZ pass lane people have to gun it trying to get way over to the lane and when you have the non-EZ pass cars in grid lock it is total chaos because most of the drivers Freeze up and stop in the flowing traffic after or before you get through the tolls. Your thoughts? I look forward to your anticipated response. Respectfully yours.

Kevin Gagan said:
This is an engineering question best answered by the Thruway Authority.

Question from Chris in Cobleskill:
What do I do if I get into a crash?

Kevin Gagan said:
In minor collisions, motorists need to avoid secondary crashes by moving to a safe area on the side or off the road. Then call 911. Exchange info w/ other driver, including license plate #s. Snap a few pictures of the vehicle damage and roadway from the direction of travel, if possible. Jot down notes on what happened and ID any witnesses.

Question from Jamie in Hempstead:
Aren't tinted rear view windows illegal? It impedes long vision ahead which I typically can see two cars in front of me.Do troopers ticket for that?I find it so hard to drive safely behind a driver with dark tints, making it difficult to anticipate an abrupt stop.

Kevin Gagan said:
The Vehicle and Traffic Law governs tint on the front windshield and side windows. In the interest of safety, you should not rely on viewing through somebody else's windshield. Instead, maintain a safe following distance, as you would if following a truck with no rear windows.

Question from James in Niagara:
NYS traffic law forbids alteration to motorcycle exhaust to make it loud, decibel level doesn't matter, the mere alteration is illegal and can be determined by EPA stickers on the handlebars and muffler. Why doesn't the state police enforce the law against loud motorcycles?

Kevin Gagan said:
We do enforce those laws and have one of the nation's most robust motorcycle enforcement programs. While we recognize this as a quality of life issue, we focus our efforts on violations that impact safety, such as use of "novelty" helmets that provide no protection.

Kevin Gagan said:
Thank you for participating in this live web chat today. I hope the information discussed today was helpful. Keep in mind that the primary violations that cause injury and death on the highways are drinking, distracted driving, improper use of safety restraints and aggressive driving. Drinking and driving must be avoided at all costs. The distractions of talking on a cell phone or texting dramatically lower your odds of a safe trip. Seat belts are a must. And, driving aggressively is never worth the risk. Please drive responsibly. On behalf of the New York State Police, I wish you and your families a happy and safe holiday season.