In face of Gov’s driving ban, Island police advise common sense

Traffic was light Friday afternoon, and the snow moderate, at the intersection of West Tisbury and State Roads. — Photo by Lynn Christoffers

Friday, 4:30 pm

As Massachusetts communities braced Friday afternoon for what many forecasters predicted would be a historic snowstorm, Gov. Deval Patrick issued an executive order that banned vehicle travel on all roads, beginning at 4 pm Friday.

The governor’s “outright ban on all roads” includes exceptions for public utility and health care workers, as well as for delivery trucks and news media.

News of the ban set off a flurry of telephone calls to police departments across Martha’s Vineyard. Business owners wanted to know if they were required to close. Residents wanted to know if they could go out to a restaurant. With only a slight covering of slush on Island roads, many callers wanted to know what, if anything, police would do to enforce the ban.

Police officials in several Island towns said they have no plans to ticket or stop drivers for violating the ban. They appealed to business owners and drivers to use common sense should conditions worsen.

Edgartown police Chief Tony Bettencourt said his department had no plans to stop or ticket vehicles violating the driving ban. Chief Bettencourt said he would rely on residents exercising good judgment and common sense. He said the goal is to keep people safe and allow the public works department to keep the streets passable.

“Obviously, if travel worsens we will advise the public and enforce the ban,” Chief Bettencourt said.

In West Tisbury, police Sergeant Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter who is also a town selectman said, “We will enforce it as necessary.”

In Chilmark, Detective Sean Slavin said his department was treating the ban as an advisory. He said police would not stop drivers.

Tisbury Police Sergeant Rodney Silvia said officers in his department would enforce moving violations but he had no plans to issue citations for violations of the 4 pm driving ban.

“I am not going to encourage our guys to stop anyone, except for violations on the road,” Sergeant Silvia said.

He said that if conditions should worsen, motorists should understand that they put themselves and responding officers at risk of injury. He said what he would say to drivers who go out in bad weather is: “You are on your own. You are out there at your own risk. You have the potential to put us in jeopardy to come rescue you if you get in trouble, so we would appreciate it if you do not drive.”

Oak Bluffs Sergeant Mike Marchand said businesses have not been asked to close. He said business owners have been asked to use common sense and send employees home if the snow does start to accumulate.

He said if a driver were to get into a accident and there was a foot of snow on the ground, he would likely receive a citation

“Are we going to be out there stopping cars, everybody out there that is driving around in the rain right now? No,” he said.

“Our response is going to change with the weather,” he said.

To the east, Nantucket police chief Bill Pittman said the driving ban was not being enforced on Nantucket at the moment, but his department would enforce it if circumstances dictated and the snow became heavy, the Nantucket Inquirer and Mirror reported.