Target Zero: Distracted driving can be deadly

Jeff Anaya of the Vancouver Police Department, is also part of Target Zero, law enforcement officers from throughout the region who team up for emphasis patrol. This month, Target Zero’s focus is on distracted drivers. Photo by Paul Valencia
Jeff Anaya of the Vancouver Police Department, is also part of Target Zero, law enforcement officers from throughout the region who team up for emphasis patrol. This month, Target Zero’s focus is on distracted drivers. Photo by Paul Valencia

Jeff Anaya, an officer with the Vancouver Police Department, is reminding drivers that it is just not worth it to use a phone while behind the wheel

Paul Valencia

Target Zero was out in force Friday in Battle Ground, specifically watching out for drivers not paying attention to, well, driving.

Distracted Driving is the emphasis of Target Zero this month, and law enforcement agencies throughout Southwest Washington and the rest of the state are teaming up to seek out drivers who are using their phones while behind the wheel.

Or sure, there are other ways for drivers to be distracted. But law enforcement officials say using a mobile phone is the most common form of distracted driving.

“There are a lot of cliches out there, but the best one is, ‘It can wait,’” said Jeff Anaya, police officer with the Vancouver Police Department. “Really, nothing is all that important. It’s two or three seconds, but at 40 miles per hour, your reaction time is going to be slower.”

Anaya said the Vancouver area has a high number of vehicle-pedestrian incidents. The Washington Traffic Safety Commission said 10 percent of all fatalities involving vehicles involve distracted driving.

“Taking someone’s life over ‘I’ll be late for dinner’ in a text message … all that can wait,” Anaya said. “The guilt and everything you go through over killing someone or harming yourself even, it’s not worth it. At the end of the day, it’s not worth the cost.”

Anaya has been an officer with Vancouver since 2011. He has been called to several crash scenes. In his professional experience, he thinks the number of distracted drivers in fatality incidents is likely higher than 10 percent because it can be difficult to prove the distraction after the fact.

He recalls one pedestrian being struck by a car even though the pedestrian was lit up with reflective clothing. The driver never hit the brakes. The driver was not speeding nor impaired and should have seen the pedestrian. 

When those types of incidents happen, law enforcement officials have a good idea of what happened. 

“I truly believe a lot of it has to do with distracted driving,” Anaya said.

Target Zero emphasis patrols this month looking for distracted drivers could be just officers in their patrol vehicles on the lookout for drivers using their phones. But it also could be an officer on the side of a road — a spotter — who notices a driver using the phone and then calling ahead to a teammate who can then pull over the driver.

Target Zero law enforcement officers work together across departments. Battle Ground, Vancouver, Ridgefield, and other cities, along with Clark County Sheriff’s Department personnel On Friday, Target Zero was zeroing in on drivers in Battle Ground.

While no driver likes getting a ticket or even a warning, those in law enforcement know they are doing something that helps the public. One ticket for distracted driving might stop that driver from ever doing it again, perhaps saving a life in the future.

Serving is why Anaya is in law enforcement. 

Jeff and his wife were on the force together in Oakland, Calif. Hit by layoffs in 2010, the family wanted to remain in law enforcement but start a new life. They found Vancouver. Jeff has been with VPD since 2011.

“Best decision of my life. Love it up here,” he said.

An uncle who was a police officer in Illinois inspired Anaya. 

“I heard all the stories about him and all the cool things he did,” Anaya said. “The stories that always stuck with me were the ones when he would chase people down, but by the end of it, the person he was taking to jail actually thanked him for the way he treated him.

“That always stuck with me, the manner he did it,” Anaya continued. “I’ve always thought that that’s what policing should be, a positive impact. Even with people you are arresting, if you are able to have a positive impact with them, you’re doing better than most. Yes, you are enforcing the law, but you’re also trying to change this person’s life a little bit.”

Anaya tries to emulate his uncle’s philosophy when he is on patrol.

“I want to go help people no matter what the issue is or no matter how dangerous it is,” Anaya said. “Being able to help somebody in their time of need is really what drove me to police work. I want to be the one who comes and handles whatever needs to be handled.  I just love police work. It’s fun. It’s never boring. You always get to help somebody every day.”

Including days when Anaya is helping out with Target Zero.

The Target Zero campaign runs throughout Washington. Its mission is to have zero deaths on the state highways and roads by 2030. Target Zero tries to accomplish this mission with educational programs as well as emphasis patrols throughout the state. 

The emphasis in May will be on restraint usage. Click it or ticket.

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