BROCKTON – Over the last year, early-morning phone calls have often brought nothing but bad news to Rick Brown.
As president of the State Police Association of Massachusetts, he has heard of state troopers being struck on state highways almost monthly.
Drunken driving, he said, is as bad as it has been in 30 years, which in turn has made the job of state troopers – their numbers dwindling almost yearly – all that more dangerous.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he said Friday.
Brown awoke to more bad news Friday after police said an East Bridgewater woman was driving drunk when her vehicle slammed into a state police cruiser, seriously injuring the trooper sitting inside, about 2:30 a.m. at a road construction site on Interstate 93 in Randolph.
It was the fourth incident of a trooper being hit since February, continuing a troubling trend in Massachusetts whose primary cause, state police said, is “impaired and reckless drivers.”
Since last summer, state police estimate, a dozen troopers have suffered significant injuries, including one fatality, when struck while out on a motor vehicle stop, responding to a prior crash or working a detail.
Among them was state police Sgt. Douglas Weddleton of Brockton, a 52-year-old husband and father of four who died during a traffic stop of a suspected drunken driver on Interstate 95 in Mansfield.
Friday’s accident comes roughly a month after a Milton man – allegedly driving with a blood alcohol level 21/2 times the legal limit – struck a state trooper on the Southeast Expressway.
On March 9, a speeding car hit a cruiser in Framingham, authorities said, and just weeks before that, two state troopers were injured when their cruiser was rear-ended on Route 128 in Braintree.
The string of accidents is reminiscent of last summer when five state troopers were struck by motorists in a span of five weeks, including Weddleton.
It spurred state police to begin a safety study examining everything from protocol to cruiser and trooper markings.
State police spokesman David Procopio said Friday the study is ongoing, but he said the primary cause of troopers being struck is “impaired and reckless drivers,” not cruiser lighting or approach procedures.
Brown said a related problem is a lack of troopers on the road. The state currently boasts 2,080 officers, he said, nearly 500 fewer than in 2008 when he became president of the state police union.
Fifty to 60 more may retire on July 1, he said, leaving the state with just over 2,000.
“It’s unheard of,” Brown said.
Budget woes, Brown said, have meant there hasn’t been a new class of officers since 2006. It’s the longest drought since World War II, according to a spokesman.
To help better protect troopers, the state enacted a “Move Over” Law in March 2009 requiring drivers to slow down or change lanes for emergency responders, including police.
In the first 15 months, more than 4,500 drivers were ticketed for violations, according to the Registry of Motor Vehicles. But while Brown said the initiative has been effective, for those who drive drunk it doesn’t matter if there’s a law in place.
Brown said he has been in discussion with the MassDOT about using more “crash trucks” to provide construction sites with another barrier from drivers. They include an “impact attenuator,” barrels usually filled with sand or water to help absorb impact.
MassDOT spokesman Richard Nangle said the cost for the vehicle is approximately $150 to $200 a day.
Rhode Island State Police Capt. Darren Delaney said they use crash trucks at almost every construction site and have yet to receive a report about a trooper being struck this year.
But Rhode Island deals with far fewer drivers. Since that state’s “Move Over” law was enacted in July 2008, just 35 tickets have been issued, Delaney said.