Fairfax County is located in the northeastern corner of Virginia and is part of the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area. Situated just 10 miles to the west of the nation's Capital, Fairfax County has grown from a population of more than 818,000 residents in 1990 to a current population of over 966,000 persons, making it the most populous county in the Commonwealth. The County is also the most populous jurisdiction of the greater metropolitan area, which has more than 4 million persons. Fairfax County covers 399 square miles, with Arlington County and the Potomac River creating its eastern and northern boundaries. The County has experienced tremendous growth due to expanding business and industrial activity. Fairfax County is a center of activity for the ever-growing telecommunications industry, as well as housing Mobil Oil and Mars Candy Corporation headquarters. The County is serviced by Washington Dulles International Airport, the metro transit system, the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95. The median household income for Fairfax County in 1997 was $72,000. A total of 2,632 miles of public roads, comprised of 51 miles of interstate highway, 157 miles of primary roadways, and 2,424 miles of secondary roadways, are within Fairfax County.
The Fairfax County Police Department currently employs 1,050 sworn officers and more than 400 civilians, making it the largest local law enforcement agency in Virginia. Due to the high number of commuters that travel through the County daily, traffic safety is a high priority for the Department. As a result, the Fairfax County Police have created the Traffic Information Center (TIC) to coordinate the Department's resources during hours of peak traffic activity. TIC officers direct the Department's fleet of patrol cars, motorcycles and helicopters, thereby minimizing the time required to clear crashes and to respond to problems that delay traffic movement. All patrol officers participate in traffic law enforcement throughout the County. The Department uses radar for speed enforcement in areas designated to be safety hazards due to high speeds. The Department also is active in public information and education campaigns targeting safety belt use, drunk driving and other traffic violations.
Over the last 10 years, the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as Fairfax County, have experienced many legislative changes in the area of traffic enforcement. More than 40 changes have been made recently to existing traffic laws, including mandatory sentencing for certain offenses. Now, DUI offenses are associated with more jail time and administrative impoundment. A second DUI offense now carries a mandatory five days in jail, as opposed to the previous sentence of two days. After two or more violations, certain moving violations, including reckless driving, now result in a license suspension which no longer can be reduced by taking a driving safety class.
Similarly, there are a number of programs run by the Fairfax County Police that focus on driving behavior, including the "Road Shark Program." This program sends officers out in unmarked patrol cars to focus on aggressive driving behavior. The vehicles used in this program are atypical police cruisers, such as Nissan Maximas or Chevrolet Malibus, that have very few markings which would reveal them to be police cars (i.e. special mirrors, spotlights, etc.). This program is conducted in waves every three months, with an average of 30 to 40 officers participating over a one-week period. While there are no "specifically termed" anti-aggressive driving legislative statutes, the Department does work closely with the judicial system to ensure existing statutes are utilized to their fullest potential to provide harsher penalties for these violators. These violations are categorized under reckless driving offenses. Reckless driving is defined in Virginia to mean any violation or combination of violations that puts others in danger of life or limb; essentially any violation where the vehicle does not appear to be in complete control.
The Fairfax County Police Department is very active in seeking out and competing for grant money. Currently the Department receives money from a number of different sources including VDOT (Virginia Department of Transportation), NHTSA, MADD, SADD and private corporations. These grant monies are used primarily for equipment, although some also are used to fund different programs such as child-seat use seminars and deer collision reduction programs. Within Fairfax County, the deer population is higher than the human population per capita; as a result, in certain areas, deer-related crashes are a very serious problem. Programs funded through different grants are designed to either relocate or cull the populations. Special deer reflectors also have been installed on roads in heavily deer populated areas that discourage the deer from crossing the roadways. Reportedly, these programs have been effective in reducing deer-related crashes.
New equipment purchased recently by the Department include a crash reconstruction station, a trailer for sobriety checkpoints, mobile sign trailers and passive alcohol flashlights. Some municipalities within Fairfax County have installed "photo red lights." These camera-equipped traffic signals photograph the license plate of any vehicle that runs a red light, and the owner of the vehicle then receives a ticket in the mail. The Fairfax County Police Department reports that the photo red lights have resulted in a high reduction of red light violations.
The Department reported an increased number of crashes in recent years. Although it was not certain why these crash statistics have been on the rise, road conditions and an increasing population were offered as possible explanations by the Fairfax County Police Department. Also mentioned was the impact of cellular phones, not on driving behavior, but on reporting behavior. It is thought that minor crashes, in years past, would not have been reported, but now are called-in due to the ease of cellular communication. This change in technology and communication patterns, therefore, may result in more crashes being reported, without necessarily indicating more crashes occurring.
Figure 66 shows the numbers of total traffic-related citations issued by the Fairfax County Police Department, beginning in 1989 until 1998.
Figure 66: Fairfax County Police - Total Traffic Citations, 1990-1998
The largest proportion of traffic-related citations issued are for speeding. Figure67 below also shows that the numbers of citations issued for speeding offenses have decreased.
Figure 67: Fairfax County Police - Speed Citations, 1990-1998
The numbers of safety belt citations issued for both adult and child restraint violations have declined as shown in Figure 68.
Figure 68: Fairfax County Police - Combined Safety Belt Citations, 1990-1998
Likewise, the numbers of citations issued for DWI offenses, including refusal to submit to BAC testing, declined as shown in Figure 69 and Figure 70.
Figure 69: Fairfax County Police - DWI Refusals, 1990-1998
Figure 70: Fairfax County Police - Total DWI Citations, 1991-1998
However, the numbers of citations issued for reckless driving increased (Figure71).
Figure 71: Fairfax County Police - Recless Driving Citations, 1990-1998
All indications are that traffic enforcement levels have been declining, but have leveled off in recent years, except for reckless driving, which has been increasing dramatically in response to a growing problem and increased emphasis on aggressive driving enforcement. It is possible that the increased number of crashes being investigated and reported by this Agency, and the reported increase in traffic volume, have tapped into departmental resources.