Accidents involving Winston-Salem city vehicles decrease significantly

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Between May 1 and Oct. 31 of 2015, the City of Winston-Salem saw 80 preventable accidents involving their vehicles. In response, City Manager Lee Garrity imposed new protocol regarding the operation of motor vehicles.

The results have been drastic.

Garrity’s changes -- which went into effect Nov. 1 -- include more training, safety reminders and improved documentation of vehicle travel.

In the six months following Nov. 1, there were 54 preventable accidents involving city vehicles; which is nearly 33 percent less than the six months prior.

In the six months prior to Nov. 1, 2015, Winston-Salem police vehicles were involved in 45 preventable accidents. That number decreased by more than 51 percent, down to 22 preventable accidents in the six months after.

“It’s a very significant cut. However, we do recognize that even one accident is too many,” said Nick Webster, risk manager for the City of Winston-Salem.

The city’s Sanitation and Utilities divisions -- which saw the second and third most accidents of all divisions -- also saw a drop in preventable accidents, by 18.18 and 30 percent respectively.

“If you back up a vehicle like a sanitation truck into another vehicle, it’s not minor in the least. It’s a very serious accident,” Webster said.

However, the city did notice a glaring trend. About one-third of the accidents in all of the city’s divisions were a result of employees operating the vehicles in reverse.

“And that isn’t relegated to any particular department, but seems to be a city-wide issue,” Webster said.

As a result, the city is installing backup sensors in many vehicles and encouraging employees to utilize a technique they call the “circle of safety,” where they walk around their vehicle, looking around and above, before backing up.

“We’re going to be addressing this from the training and from the visibility perspective,” Webster said.

Webster added that the city will be launching a major safety campaign in coming months.

Garrity’s changes also included documentation of when a police officer travels over 70 mph, more than 10 mph over the speed limit for over two minutes, and 15 mph over the speed limit for any period of time.

“We’re not going to be running 70 miles an hour down Country Club Road to go get a sandwich,” said Cpl. Thomas Day, driving instructor with the Winston-Salem Police Department. “If we’re on the side of the road running radar, looking for speeding violations, and someone comes by us at 90, we’re going to have to go over 90 to catch them.”

The city says there have only been two incidents where officers went over 70 mph while not responding to a code one call, one incident where an officer was going exactly 70 mph and two incidents where the officers broke the 10 mph rule.

“There are no higher stakes than the safety of both our community, as well as our employees,” Webster said.

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