Anyone who has ever driven on Interstate 17 can attest that most Phoenicians consider speed limits to be more of a suggestion than an enforced law. But as traffic fatalities continue to rise, Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone has a plan to crack down on reckless driving: the deployment of a dedicated motor squad.
"In order to be a fully effective law enforcement agency to target the issues of bad driving habits and the recklessness that can occur on our roadways, we have to have a unit that is solely dedicated to traffic enforcement," Penzone said during an Aug. 2 press conference.
In 2022, there were 119,991 car crashes statewide, according to a recent Arizona Department of Transportation report. Almost three-quarters of those reported crashes occurred in Maricopa County, while 44% of collisions in the county occurred in Phoenix.
The number of crashes has prompted Penzone to bring back sheriff’s office's motor squad for the first time in 13 years. Thanks to a $167,000 grant in 2022 from the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, Penzone’s traffic squad has been equipped with five BMW motorcycles and two Ford Mustangs.
“It is my goal to be extremely aggressive and just addressing everything that we see from the drag racing and the whole 'Fast & Furious' mentality,” Penzone said. “It’s unacceptable.”
According to ADOT’s report, speeding was a factor in 35,432 traffic collisions last year. An additional 6,708 crashes were caused by tailgating, and 304 were due to aggressive driving. Only 2.31% of crashes involved alcohol intoxication, and 0.24% involved illegal drugs.
Statewide, 1,294 individuals lost their lives to roadway collisions last year — the second-highest number of traffic fatalities since 1925. The deadliest year was 2006, when 1,301 people died. More than half of last year's vehicular fatalities occurred in Maricopa County.
“We are seeing an increase in both traffic and fatal collisions," Maj. Jason Leonard, chief of staff of the Arizona Department of Public Safety’s Highway Patrol Division, said in a press release. “Most of these collisions are preventable if drivers do two things. First, avoid distractions and remain focused on the task of driving. Second, be patient and drive within the law, especially relating to speed, passing and distracted driving.”
Although the vehicles in Penzone’s traffic unit would look at home in a “Fast & Furious” movie, Penzone expects them to blend into traffic. The agency's new white muscle cars feature “ghost markings” to help conceal them from other drivers. Similarly, the black motorcycles have small MSCO markings that are not immediately obvious.
The new vehicles are scheduled to be deployed sometime in September, Penzone said.