'Follow the leader' drivers exploit emergencies

THE INTREPID COMMUTER

July 31, 1995

Your Intrepid One learned never to pass and always to let an emergency vehicle have the right of way when its lights are flashing or siren is blaring.

But what about the string of cars that seems to always follow that emergency vehicle? Do those cars have the right of way, too?

That's what bothers Candy Ellerton, who had an experience with an emergency vehicle (and its string of drafters) recently as she was riding on East Fayette Street in the city near her home.

"I pulled over for the ambulance, and when I tried to get back in my lane, two cars were right behind the ambulance, and I almost knocked right into them," Ms. Ellerton said. "It was as though they were going to the same emergency. I was following the law, I thought, so they should let me back in."

It's a game of "follow the leader" that the Intrepid One sees all too often, especially on city streets where traffic is more congested. The emergency vehicle -- usually an ambulance or fire truck; seldom a police car -- clears the path for certain motorists to speed along undaunted, as though they, too, are going to a fire. We've even seen cars run lights behind an emergency vehicle.

In Ms. Ellerton's case, the ambulance was most likely en route to Johns Hopkins Hospital, she said.

Maj. Alvin A. Winkler, commander of the city police traffic unit, said traffic must be at least 300 feet (that's the length of a football field, if that's easier to grasp) behind an emergency vehicle and can be issued a $40 citation and one point for following too closely.

He also said that police have not received any complaints from the Fire Department about traffic following emergency vehicles too closely.

"We get more complaints about people cutting in a funeral line," Major Winkler said.

METRO STOP:

When the Mass Transit Administration begins a new schedule today and closes two of its downtown Metro entrances at 8 p.m., Patricia Wiskman no longer will be able to use the entrance at Calvert and Baltimore streets. Instead, she'll have to walk to the entrance at Charles and Baltimore streets.

The extra block-and-a-half walk would not be an issue if Ms. Wiskman's workday ended when most downtowners leave for the day. But Ms. Wiskman, a Harborplace merchant, does not leave work until 10:30 p.m., at the earliest.

"That makes a big difference because downtown can be bad at night," said Ms. Wiskman, who lives in the Lochearn section of Baltimore County. "I don't want to walk farther than I have to. Safety is my main concern at that time of night."

Anthony Brown, an MTA spokesman, said the earlier closings of the Calvert Street entrance and the Lexington Market subway entrance at Lexington and Eutaw streets are because of low ridership in the evenings. The entrances had been open from 5 a.m. to midnight, the Metro's hours of operation.

He added that MTA officials will listen to complaints from riders about the new schedule and make adjustments, if necessary.

MEDIAN HAZARD?:

A concrete road island is such a simple structure: unobtrusive, bland and mostly unnoticed. But the newly installed median on Park Heights Avenue at Hooks Lane, near Owings Mills, has caused some interest.

Installed about a month ago, the island was designed to avert accidents from northbound Park Heights Avenue traffic turning onto Hooks Lane while southbound traffic turns into the Beth El Congregation.

But Roy Deutschman, a seven-year Owings Mills resident, called the island a traffic hazard.

"I'm not an engineer, but it seems to me that now in bad or icy weather, we have something else to worry about slamming into or hitting," Mr. Deutschman said.

Chuck Brown of the State Highway Administration said because of the island, the potential for accidents has decreased, and that more road markings will be installed in the next 30 days.

BAD MEMORES:

Linda Miller lives in Woodlawn and works in Catonsville. For the past three years, her route to work has included Woodlawn Drive next to the Social Security Administration complex.

No more.

"I can't bear to go that way anymore," she said. "I did once and kept thinking about the accident and the kids. I'd cry every day if I drove that way."

"The accident" occurred July 20 when a car swerved off of Woodlawn Drive and killed four children and an adult at a bus stop. Another youngster was critically injured.

Ms. Miller said that when she traveled Woodlawn Drive she routinely saw cars exceed the 30 mph speed limit, and that cars seemed to race on the quarter-mile stretch from Parallel Drive to Security Boulevard.

Cpl. Kevin Novak of the Baltimore County police said not a lot of complaints have been received about speeders on Woodlawn Drive and radar details are seldom stationed there.

This year, officers have issued 16 citations for speeding on Woodlawn Drive. Twelve citations were issued all of last year, and nine were issued in 1993.

Ms. Miller said her new route to work takes about 10 minutes longer.

"I just hope to never have to travel that way again," she said. "I wish it were closed."

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