WALNUT CREEK -- Drivers racing down Ygnacio Valley Road or flying through crosswalks pedestrians are trying to navigate may soon find they didn't quite get away with breaking local traffic laws.
The Walnut Creek Police Department is starting a Reckless Driver Letter program to educate and alert people to mind the rules of the road. In addition to responding to 911 calls detailing reckless driving as it is happening, police will now also send a letter to the vehicle's registered owner alerting them that their car was reported to have been driven dangerously.
Officers will still go out and try to find the reported car and driver when a call of reckless driving comes in, but often it's hard to locate such vehicles immediately once reported, said Police Chief Tom Chaplin.
So if someone, for example, sees a driver weaving in and out of lanes and going faster than the posted speed, they can call the police and give the license plate number and make of the offending vehicle. The police will then make sure the owner information matches what they have on file and send out a letter.
Last year the department had 597 reckless driving calls -- more than 11 a week. And of those, 19 resulted in DUI arrests.
"We won't ever really ever know if one of these letters helps save somebody's life," he said. "But it can help somebody to rethink how they are conducting themselves. It's a way to reach out."
Chaplin sees it as potentially helpful to parents of teen drivers, who may get a letter and realize it was their teen driving the car.
"Parents could say, 'This is exactly what I needed to know,' " Chaplin said.
The letters are nothing more than an educational tool, and won't be used against anyone if they get pulled over later on for a different violation. And those who receive the letters can call the department and get more information about the incident, he said.
If the police start to see a pattern with one vehicle being reported over and over again, officers may then make a house call, he said.
"If it's the same car racing through the area and we get called again and again, we may take a preventive measure to get it to stop," Chaplin said.
When the police announced this new program on their Facebook page last week, residents seemed to embrace the idea. One woman who often walks with her baby in the Tice Valley area of Walnut Creek said she has almost been hit several times by speeding motorists. She recently got a license plate number, which she now plans to put to good use.
But Chaplin cautions that the letters aren't a replacement for the city's motorcycle patrol, which has not been up and fully running for more than a year. Due to vacancies in staffing, the department's traffic motor team, as the motorcycle patrol is known, were redeployed to handle basic patrol under the previous police chief.
For the first time since Chaplin came to the job in July, he feels confident that the motor patrol will be back out in full force by this summer -- if not sooner, he said.
Contact Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617. Follow her at Twitter.com/enardi10.