Youths play hazardous game with motorists Watch out: Children daring traffic and drivers talking on cellular phones are new dangers on the road.

The Intrepid Commuter

October 23, 1995

IT'S A GAME children call "cutting the cake," and for a lot of motorists it's not a very funny sport. In fact, it can be downright unnerving.

It's when youngsters or students -- usually of the middle or high school variety -- encroach upon traffic while crossing the street and dare motorists to hit them.

Sandra Carroll faces this game by students from William H. Lemmel Middle School in her daily travels on Dukeland Street in front of the West Baltimore school.

"They walk right out from [Hanlon Park] and into the street and act as though you're not even there," Ms. Carroll said. "They usually stop at the last moment, but I could easily run over their toes, and that wouldn't be nice."

The game is not restricted to children. We've seen students at the Johns Hopkins University carelessly (or daringly) cross the southbound lane of Charles Street near 33rd Street at all hours.

Agent Robert W. Weinhold Jr. of the city Police Department said jaywalking laws are enforced but not always actively. He said people who don't cross at corners increase the likelihood of getting struck by a car.

"It's not only a danger to students but a danger to other motorists who travel along the highway and have to avoid the car that swerves to avoid [the pedestrians]," Mr. Weinhold said.

Mark Harper of the city police traffic investigation division said few pedestrians have been struck while jaywalking. However, he said, "It's a real problem when people cross at improper places. It's an unnecessary hazard."

Tricky ramps

Driving on ramps can be tricky. Driving on ramps that are not properly marked can be very dangerous.

Just ask Dorothy Margolis. She frequently travels the ramp from southbound Interstate 95 to the westbound Beltway (toward Towson). The ramp, according to Ms. Margolis, "kind of doglegs and doesn't have a true arc."

"In the evening, it's very, very difficult to see. It takes you out of the normal arch of the ramp just before you get onto the ramp, and it's difficult to see," she said.

We don't travel that ramp frequently, but most of the ramps that lead to the Beltway are clearly marked and have reflectors embedded in the road surface.

Chuck Brown of the State Highway Administration said highway workers recently checked the ramp from I-95 to the Beltway and found the painted lines adequate for day driving and the reflective markers in good shape when driving at night. "But we'll check the overhead lighting to see if all the lights are working properly," Mr. Brown said.

Dangerous car phones

We were on St. Paul Street, between 25th Street and North Avenue, when we saw a Honda Prelude swerve and weave through traffic. As a regular commuter on St. Paul Street we see this type of driving frequently.

But this time was different. The driver changed lanes three times without using a turn signal, nearly sideswiped several parked cars and drove strangely slow.

We pulled alongside the motorist at a traffic signal and saw the reason for her erratic driving. The reason was in her right hand stuffed somewhat awkwardly between her chin and shoulder:

A cellular telephone.

It became clear why she weaved: Because it's hard to control the car with one hand while trying to keep an eye on the road and maintain traffic speed.

And it became apparent why her turn signal was untouched when she changed lanes. With one hand on the phone and one hand on the steering wheel, what's left to flick the turn signal?

The Intrepid One does not have a car telephone yet, so we can't give a true impression of what it's like to drive with one. But several Intrepid readers have expressed their opinions of them.

* "It takes time to get used to driving and holding the phone," said Carol Winburn of Towson. "The first couple of weeks are really tricky."

* "I try to use it either when I'm on a long stretch with no lights or quickly at a stop light," said Timothy Reinhart of Randallstown.

* Michael Miller of Columbia said he's had three cellular telephones stolen from his car and does not plan to buy another. "It's just another reason for someone to break into your car."

Police do not keep track of accidents that are caused by a motorist using a cellular phone.

Eugene Uhler, a Howard County driving instructor, said it's not that motorists using car phones don't have a free hand to operate the car properly. It's that they don't have their full concentration on driving.

"It's best just to pull off to the side of the road and use the phone and then pull away," Mr. Uhler said. Even motorists driving cars with "hand free" telephones are at risk because their concentration is divided, he said.

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