October 23, 2021

Operation Hard Hat targets reckless drivers in work areas

Photo provided by State Police Troop C

A state police trooper, in a construction worker’s yellow vest and hard hat, monitors traffic Thursday on Interstate 81 in Cortland. Troopers will mingle with road crews for several weeks to make sure drivers obey traffic laws, particularly in work zones, following the death last year of a road construction worker in Tioga County.

Off comes the tan, felt Stetson. On comes a hard hat.

State troopers began Operation Hard Hat on Thursday in Cortland, where troopers will mingle with road construction workers to catch speeders and dangerous drivers into August and perhaps longer.

Trooper Aga Dembinska, the Troop C public information officer, said 30 tickets were issued on the first day — 19 of them for cell phone usage.

“We will be at active work zones, here and there, at random work zones,” she said. “These are not staged. It’s happening in actual work zones.”

Troopers will dress in a reflective vest and a hard hat, like the workers, and observe traffic, Dembinska said. They will look for motorists who violate the state’s Move Over Law, which applies to emergency and work vehicles, as well as speeding, people using cell phones and other infractions.

“You’ll never see them until they pull you over after the work zone,” said Curtis Jetter, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, which is working with the state police in the program. “The benefit of having this operation is the safety of our employees. They’re the most important asset. They’re on roadways across the state, doing what they can to maintain safety on the roads for the public.”

More than 1,000 tickets were issued during last year’s state-wide operation, mostly in Broome and Tioga counties, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a news release.

Dembinska added that troopers issued three dozen tickets a few days ago on Route 17 in Windsor, in Broome County, including a person driving 83 mph in a 55 mph zone.

“The numbers are impressive when you consider the effort the state police is putting into this program,” Jetter said.

The operation was partially in response to an accident in March 2019 in Tioga County, when DOT employee Dennis Matt Howell was struck by a tractor-trailer and died later that night.

“That was a very tragic incident,” Dembinska said. “If we can avoid any type of tragedy from occurring, we’ve done our job.”

“I think when people do see troopers, they do slow down,” Dembinska said. “They do obey the road signs, but we just want people to be able to do that all of the time.”

“We’re out on the road and we work on the road,” she added. “These workers deserve to go home to their families, just like we do, every day.”