Gulfport Police want to turn an area known for fender benders into a message board for safer driving and saving lives. Between October 2006 and May 2007 there were 614 accidents on Highway 49 between Interstate 10 and O'Neal Road. Officers are in the middle of a campaign to reduce wrecks by at least five percent within that same time frame this year.
Every day, thousands of drivers travel Highway 49 in Orange Grove on the way to work, school, or shopping. Passing a traffic accident along the way is nothing unusual for driver Valerie Ladner.
"I have to drive this twice a day," said Ladner. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't see a wreck."
In just the last week, Gulfport Police say they've responded to 22 wrecks between I-10 and O'Neal Road, in what officers call the High Accident Area.
Sgt. Damon McDaniel said, "Week to week, when I look at the traffic statistics on the number of accidents in this area, it shows, by large numbers, that the main two are going to be failure to yield right of way and inattention."
Now officers are using message boards to encourage people to pay attention to their driving habits in a new campaign called RADE - Reckless and Aggressive Driver Enforcement. The department is also boosting patrols in the area and giving drivers who think they know how to spot patrol cars something to think about.
"It could be Ford Taurus. It could be a Jeep Liberty. It could be a Beetle," said Sgt. McDaniel. "What they're using are unconventional methods with those types of vehicles and they're even putting undercover officers to stand at intersections to watch your motoring public that will run a red light or do different things that will violate those city ordinances, so it's different techniques. It's not just going to be your blue and white police car with your light bulb on the top anymore."
Officers say, so far, it seems to be working. Wrecks are down. Officers say most of the accidents in the High Accident Area occur between 10am and 6pm.