Stranded driver's gripe is lack of aid Motorists get angry when police pass by, but officers can use own discretion

Intrepid Commuter

October 02, 1995

We recently wrote of a motorist stranded on Interstate 95. He sat in his car for about an hour watching car after car -- including a state trooper -- pass him until someone came to his aid.

Sound familiar?

Your Intrepid One surely has passed a fair share of disabled blokes parked helplessly on the side of the road. We've also had it happen a couple of times (most recently when our jalopy died in the left-turn lane of Loch Raven Boulevard while turning onto Goucher Boulevard near Towson).

But the incident begged the question: Aren't police officers -- especially state troopers whose duties in large part consist of highway patrol -- supposed to help distressed motorists?

"I'd sit there, and when the trooper came by, I got happy and thought he was going to stop and call someone," said Robert Horn of Columbia. "How wrong I was."

Troopers and police officers are obligated to help stranded motorists, especially if their vehicle is on the road and blocking traffic.

Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr. of the Baltimore City Police Department said officers must stop and have the vehicle towed to free the flow of traffic. However, he said that if the car is not blocking traffic and appears to be getting fixed or the motorists is not troubled, the officer has discretion whether to stop.

If you are on the highway and a state trooper passes you, it's because the trooper is either on a call or it's too hazardous at that time to reach your vehicle.

"What they'll do is make a turn and come back or call another trooper to help," said State Police Cpl. Laura Lu Herman, adding that troopers might call their barracks and request another trooper to aid the motorist.

She said troopers' efforts to stop and help motorists are part of the department's traffic safety enforcement. "If they do pass you by, it doesn't mean that we're ignoring you. It's just too dangerous to get over there," Corporal Herman said.

Near misses

In the 500 block of Guilford Ave. downtown, there are two

lanes of traffic, a narrow cement island and a service lane. Just before the intersection with Bath Street, there are stop signs for the service lane traffic.

The problem is, few cars in the service lane pay attention to the stop sign and merely yield, causing many near misses with the Guilford Avenue traffic.

"Somebody has to stop there or cars will crash all into each other," said Emerson Richardson, who works in the World Trade Center.

Lt. Carl Gutberlet of the city traffic unit said officers will monitor the area beginning today. "We'll send some folks up there to write some tickets. It's education through enforcement."

Spare change?

We had an interesting experience recently aboard an MTA bus. The Intrepidmobile was in a shop on U.S. 40 in Catonsville, and we decided to ride the bus to get it.

Now, we've ridden the bus to work many times. In fact, the No. 3 runs not far from our house and has a stop about three blocks from this newspaper. So we're no stranger to mass transportation.

Like a good rider, we called the MTA customer assistance line to plot our route. They told us to catch the No. 3 downtown, then transfer to the No. 23 at Calvert and Saratoga streets.

"Be sure you get on the one that says 'Route 40 and Rolling Road,' " they told us. Very friendly.

We didn't mind waiting in a mist for the bus, for it was a good chance to hear uncommonly loud music from the boombox of two youths who cut school. And if the No. 23 hadn't come when it did, we would have been able to witness a fistfight.

The No. 23 driver was kind to this infrequent rider -- he smiled and even offered us one of the handicap seats. We declined and sat in the back next to a man who was asleep.

When the driver called our stop we went to the back door. It wouldn't open. We tried again. Nothing.

"Could you open the back door?" we asked. Several people laughed.

"Nope," the driver said. "You've got to come up here and get off after you pay."

MTA collects a 30-cent zone charge when going from the city to the Catonsville section of the county, which we didn't know about -- and we had no change.

"I'll take a dollar, but you're not getting any change," the driver said. More passengers laughed. We exited.

Anthony Brown, an MTA spokesman, said drivers are not allowed to give change.

More seats

Speaking of the MTA, light-rail riders soon will have added seating capacity and a shorter waiting time between trains, thanks to a $53.7 million contract approved last week by the state Board of Public Works for the MTA to purchase 18 transit vehicles.

With the new vehicles, light rail, which carries about 20,000 passengers daily, will have increased seating capacity and improve the 15 minute wait between trains, transit officials said.

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