With traffic fatalities nearing a two-year record, Palmdale, Lancaster and sheriff’s officials say they are targeting problem streets, mounting more patrols around schools and checking for drunk and unlicensed drivers. Seventy-eight people have died so far this year on Antelope Valley highways, streets and roads, already past the 74 killed in 2004 and nearing the record 87 killed in 2003. Sixty-two people died in 2002. “We can’t afford to keep losing good people the way we have been,” Mayor Frank Roberts said Thursday. High speeds, inattentive motorists and drivers who run red lights and stop signs were blamed for most local fatalities, which a Los Angeles County health department analysis in 2002 says kill Antelope Valley residents at a rate 2 times that of other county residents. Since the stepped-up patrols, there have been no fatalities there, he said. Earlier this year, deputies and California Highway Patrol officers targeted speeding and other traffic violations around Highland and Quartz Hill high schools and around Lancaster and Palmdale elementary schools. In both Lancaster and Palmdale, deputies in civilian clothes have been sent out to walk back and forth across busy streets as other deputies watched for motorists who didn’t stop for the pedestrians. Eighty-five tickets were issued in the two stings. Ninety-nine pedestrians and 71 bicyclists have been hit by vehicles so far this year in the Antelope Valley. At least 10 pedestrians – including a woman walking on the Antelope Valley Freeway at night and a man pushing a motorcycle along a rural road – have died, along with one bicyclist. In all, the Antelope Valley has had more than 6,400 collisions from Jan. 1 through Dec. 5. Of those, 316 involved drunk drivers, officials said. Part of the valley’s problem is that speed limits are too high for traffic as heavy as its streets and roads now experience, officials said. Speed limits on city streets are as high as 60 mph. But a state law intended to stop cities from creating “speed traps” to generate ticket revenue forbids officials from arbitrarily lowering speed limits. Speed limits must be set according to a radar survey of the speed at which 85 percent of traffic travels, on the premise that the majority of motorists will drive a safe speed. “People have got to realize the Antelope Valley is no longer a small-town valley,” Deeley said. “We have two heavily populated cities. We have heavily traveled county roads, and all of them have serious traffic concerns.” At a news conference Thursday to detail the steps being taken to combat crashes, mayors of Palmdale and Lancaster urged motorists to drive with their headlights on through Jan. 1 as a sign that the message is getting out. “We are here because we are serious and want to let everybody in the Antelope Valley know we are serious,” Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said. Charles F. Bostwick, (661) 267-5742 [email protected] Antelope Valley officials offer these suggestions for staying alive on local highways, streets and roads. Obey the speed limits. Do not follow other vehicles too closely. Look both ways before entering an intersection, even on a green light. Do not drive after drinking, and be aware that even common medications can impair driving ability. Always wear a seat belt. Watch for pedestrians and bicyclists. If riding a bicycle, wear a helmet. Drive defensively. ANTELOPE VALLEY TRAFFIC FATALITIES 2005 78* 2004 74 2003 87 2002 62 2001 71 *As of Dec. 5 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREBlues bury Kings early with four first-period goals As the death toll mounted in recent years, local cities have been hiring more motorcycle officers to enforce traffic laws and are now combining their forces to target problem areas, such as streets with high incidents of speeding and red-light violations. The first motorcycle officer in recent decades was hired in 1997. Palmdale now has six and Lancaster four. They were at work together Thursday morning in front of Palmdale High School, ticketing 16 motorists, including two unlicensed drivers, for speeding and other offenses. Sheriff’s officials say combining forces is more effective than spreading motorcycle officers individually across the two cities. Working together, the officers are more visible to motorists and can catch a higher proportion of drivers who commit the same offense, such as driving through a red left-turn arrow. “When people see that happening, it affects the way they drive,” said Capt. Carl Deeley, Lancaster sheriff’s station commander. For example, Palmdale and Lancaster motorcycle deputies for about three months have been targeting Lancaster’s Avenue K, where 110 crashes and six fatalities occurred in the first part of this year between 30th Street West and 10th Street East. Speeding and red light-running have been problems, Deeley said.