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September 18, 2006


It's hard to believe that anyone in authority is genuinely concerned about the carnage taking place on Delaware highways. From time to time there's glowing self-serving publicity about how successful the periodic traffic stops aimed at curbing drunken driving are. The relative handfuls of arrests and citations, however, actually have no effect beyond, perhaps, the few drivers who are nabbed.

Still the death, injury and property damage continues unabated. We dare say that if a crime wave resulted in a comparable toll there would be loud cries that effective action be taken to deal with the emergency.

The other night, County Council unanimously enacted an ordinance grandly entitled -- believe it or not -- "Amend the grants budget: appropriate $40,320 to stop aggressive driving." [emphasis added] The measure, sponsored by Councilman William Bell, provided that modest sum to pay overtime for police officers to go after a few more offenders. One measure of the priority attached to that activity is the fact it wasn't even county money involved, but a pass-through grant.

It is literally impossible to go out and not witness multiple traffic violations -- speeding, tail-gating, improper lane changes.

What is needed -- and needed right away -- is a serious effort to not only to penalize a significant number of offenders but also, in the process, to send a message that Delaware is really into highway safety.

A workable suggestion would be to establish a corps of trained -- emphasis on trained -- persons who would cruise the highways, streets, back roads and lanes using up-to-date electronic technology to record violations. It would work in a manner similar to the cameras employed to record red-light running at selected intersections. There would be no need for confrontation; the citations would be issued by mail.

Owners of vehicles in violation would be held responsible with the presumption they are operating the vehicles or know who is. Instead of a fine, violators would have to attend four hours of instruction in traffic laws and how to drive in harmony with them and then pass a test to avoid a suspended license. Charging a fee comparable to court costs could finance the program with the volume of offenders it would involve.

Years ago, 'meter maids' took the place of police officers to free them from the time-consuming chore of enforcing parking laws. Similarly, demands on police time now discourages their enforcing 'minor' traffic violations. Having an auxiliary safety patrol would not only get past that but also would soon have a measurable effect.

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In a related matter, we note that California has become the fourth state to enact a statewide ban on drivers using hand-held cellular telephones while their vehicles are in motion. Several years ago, State Representative Joseph Miro attempted similar legislation in Delaware. Somehow in its wisdom, the General Assembly decided that such a distraction at 60 or more m.p.h. wasn't worth worrying about. Well, the practice didn't go away and the problem, if anything, got worse.

If a state the size of California can deal with it, Delaware certainly should be able to follow suit.

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DelDOT finally decided to paint directional instructions in the appropriate traffic lanes on Foulk Road at the Blue Ball interchange. They've been doing that in Europe for some time -- a considerable improvement over roadside directional signs. However, whoever was responsible for the Foulk Road marker didn't have the foresight to figure out that it might be better to locate the directions farther back. As it is, they're too little too late. Drivers are already committed by the time they're reached.

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2006. All rights reserved.

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