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Police step up holiday patrols

May 24, 2002|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

Maryland State Police are putting aggressive Memorial Day weekend travelers on notice: Drive safely or pay.

State police will increase patrols on the highways this weekend, looking for aggressive drivers who endanger others, 1st Sgt. Rick Narron said.

Narron said a new driving law passed by the Maryland General Assembly last year allows police to tack on extra fines when there is evidence of aggressive driving.

The aggressive driving law can be used against motorists seen making three or more aggressive driving maneuvers at the same time or within a short time frame, he said.

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For example, a motorist caught speeding, passing on the shoulder and tailgating would be subject to fines for those violations and an additional $350 fine for aggressive driving, he said.

Other aggressive driving behavior includes driving through red lights, crossing the center line or failing to yield the right of way, he said.

"Driving is a privilege and has to be done safely to save lives," Narron said.

The unofficial kickoff to summer, Memorial Day weekend, traditionally means heavy highway traffic as motorists head for the beaches or set out on short trips, according to Myra Wieman, spokeswoman for the Mid-Atlantic AAA.

Wieman estimated that 29.3 million people across the United States will drive to holiday destinations this weekend. About 520,000 Marylanders are expected to drive 50 miles or more this holiday weekend, she said.

To help keep the highways safe, the state police, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have launched several driving campaigns.

The "Smooth Operator" promotion is a four-week program that targets aggressive drivers through enforcement and public education. The increased enforcement started Monday and will continue through Saturday.

Subsequent enforcement efforts will be made from June 16 to June 22, July 21 to July 27 and Aug. 25 to Aug. 31.

Problem drivers, including those who have been drinking, aren't hard to spot, according to Washington County Sheriff's Department Sgt. Travers Ruppert.

"Often they'll cross the center line, be traveling at an excessive speed or even be going below the speed limit," he said.

Drivers should stay away from motorists who drive erratically, weave or keep their high beams on, all signs they might be intoxicated, he said.

The "Click It or Ticket" program promotes seat belt laws in Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia, Delaware, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

The program includes high visibility enforcement and public education about the importance of seat belt and child safety seat use, according to a U.S. Department of Transportation press release.

Maryland law allows officers to ticket drivers whenever they see someone in a moving vehicle who isn't wearing a seat belt.

In Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Delaware and Virginia, a driver can be ticketed for a seat belt violation if he or she has been stopped for another violation.

In 1999, there were 598 fatalities on Maryland's roads. That number grew to 617 in 2000 and 662 in 2001, according to the Maryland State Highway Administration.

Last year, there was at least one fatality on Memorial Day weekend in the Tri-State area. A Virginia man died after losing control of his motorcycle on Leetown Road in Jefferson County, W.Va., West Virginia State Police said.

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