BEDFORD — If you’ve been texting, eating and taking care of other business while driving, be aware that police will be watching.
There soon will be more Bedford police presence on roads and highways as the Town Council has accepted a $5,616 grant allowing the department to fund overtime patrols.
The Bedford Police Department was awarded a New Hampshire Highway Safety Grant to participate in its state-wide Operation Safe Commute campaign to encourage drivers to pay attention to the task at hand — operating their vehicles safely to prevent accidents and injuries to themselves and others.
“These grants will enable the Bedford Police Department and other law enforcement agencies to focus on highway safety, and to heighten awareness about distracted driving and reduce the number of crashes,” said police Chief John Bryfonski. “The state highway safety agency will determine the dates and times and coordinate with other communities so it happens at once.”
Police will not advertise where and when the extra patrols will occur.
“It’ll be everywhere. We pay attention to the roads that carry the highest volume and amount of accidents. We track motor vehicle accidents on a regular basis,” Bryfonski said. “The patrol division will assign overtime shifts, and officers will apply for the open slots.”
The state began the Operation Safe Commute program in 2010. Texting while driving and using mobile devices behind the wheel have been illegal in New Hampshire since January 2010. Former Gov. John Lynch signed the law in July 2009, making New Hampshire the 15th state to ban texting while driving. The law also bans typing on laptop computers or other electronic devices while driving.
Bedford serves the region as a major commuter artery for tens of thousands each day, making highway safety a top priority for police, said Bryfonski in his report to the council. To underscore the challenge faced by the department’s traffic division, more than 25,000 motor vehicles travel the Route 101 corridor through Bedford each day, not including volume carried by other major commuting routes, such as South River Road.
As traffic volume increases so, too, does the propensity for motor vehicle accidents, including those resulting in personal injury, he said.
Statistical analysis of accidents on New Hampshire highways revealed that driver inattention and distraction was the primary factor in 10.8 percent of crashes resulting in incapacitating injuries, and 21.8 percent of crashes resulting in non-incapacitating injuries from 2009-12.
“Instead of focusing their attention on driving and operating their vehicles safely, drivers are frequently distracted from their primary task when using a cellular telephone, texting, eating, reading or even personal grooming, often in combination with excessive speed, following too closely and/or improper lane changes. This deadly combination often leads to a crash and all too often serious personal injury,” Bryfonski said.
The Operation Safe Commute is funded by the state, with no town taxpayer money used.
“There is no fiscal impact with this program because the grant is fully reimbursed,” said Councilor Kelleigh Domaingue at the Nov. 13 meeting.
In October, the town council voted to hold public hearings before accepting unanticipated money of $5,000 or more, per state statute. For grants or gifts less than $5,000, the board should post notice of the funds in the agenda and include the notice in the minutes of the hearing.
Levine had recommended the board set a public hearing as a house-keeping matter so residents would know when the town is accepting grants from outside sources, and that councilors have not appropriated more money in the budget. This, she said, would increase the transparency in the process.
At the Oct. 9 meeting, Domaingue, who also serves as a state representative for Bedford, said she submitted a legislative bill to amend the statute to raise the $5,000 limit for a public hearing up to $10,000 and to allow that amount to increase annually based on the rate of inflation.