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'Smooth Operator' program is promoted

July 22, 2002|by KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

kimy@herald-mail.com

Area authorities are warning drivers: Just because you a have a car doesn't mean you are Jeff Gordon.

Aggressive driving tactics such as speeding, unsafe lane changes, tailgating and running red lights endanger everyone on the road, Hagerstown City Police Chief Arthur Smith said at a press conference Thursday.

To make drivers aware of the consequences of unsafe driving, the Washington County Health Department is promoting the "Smooth Operator" anti-aggressive driving campaign, which partners education with enforcement efforts in Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

The program is also sponsored by the Maryland State Highway Administration's Highway Safety Office, and the Washington County Community Traffic Safety Program.

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City, county and state police will be holding various safety checks through the end of the summer informing motorists about seat belt, child safety and other driving laws.

Using grant funds, authorities will also increase speeding and drinking and driving enforcement patrols.

Free safe driving training classes for first-time and senior drivers soon will be available through the Washington County Health Department, according to officials.

Nearly 13,000 people have been injured or killed nationwide since 1990 in crashes caused by aggressive driving, according to Andrea Harris, program director for the Washington County Community Traffic Safety Program.

The main causes of fatal accidents in Washington County have been lane violations, speeding, the use of drugs or alcohol and failing to yield the right of way, said Harris, citing Maryland State Police.

If motorists find themselves driving near aggressive drivers they should not provoke them, Smith said.

"It's important not to get caught up and pull over and settle it. They could pull out a weapon. The best bet is to take down the tag number and report it," Smith said.

Recent legislation targeting aggressive drivers is helping to make highways safer, Maryland State Trooper 1st Class C.R. Stanford said.

The legislation combines several unsafe driving maneuvers into the offense of aggressive driving. At least three of the following must occur - running a red light, improper passing, passing on the right, unsafe lane change, following too close, speeding or failure to yield the right of way.

On their first outing in June, troopers from the Hagerstown barrack cited five drivers for aggressive driving, which carries a fine of $350 plus five points on the operator's driver's license.

Stanford said area state police have acquired an unmarked car for use in catching unsafe drivers.

One officer sits in the unmarked car and radios to another trooper when a vehicle is spotted driving aggressively, Stanford said. The trooper in the marked vehicle then pulls over the aggressive driver and issues the appropriate citations, he said.

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