Slap on head says 'I'm sorry' Contest: Participants in an AAA contest favored this gesture as a way for errant drivers to apologize and try to avert violent confrontations on the road.

Intrepid Commuter

October 13, 1997

LAST WEDNESDAY in the Washington suburb of Langley Park, the ultimate show of road rage shocked Maryland commuters everywhere: A bicyclist, upset after being knocked down by a commuter, was charged with shooting the driver because, "He felt she endangered him, and he wanted her to know how it felt," Prince George's County Police said.

Many highway safety experts believe such violence lies just beneath the asphalt on today's roads.

The issue is so hotly debated that the American Automobile Association's Foundation for Traffic Safety felt the need to conduct a national contest last month to identify a symbol for "I'm sorry" at the wheel. The contest ran from Aug. 28 to Sept. 30 on the Foundation's Web site and attracted 164 responses from the United States, Canada and even South Africa.

The gesture would be used whenever driving mistakes are made -- and whenever drivers are willing to admit their error.

And the winner is: A (kind and gentle) slap on the head.

This gesture earned 20 percent of the votes in the contest as drivers agreed the new way to 'fess up at the wheel is to give it a "What was I thinking?" gesture.

Other contenders were blowing kisses, waving, shrugging shoulders or mouthing the words "I'm sorry" to the other driver -- who may or may not be willing to accept that, depending on the offense. Other suggestions included flashing hazard lights or the use of true sign language, in which a driver would rotate a closed hand over the heart as a sorry gesture.

One driver from Alberta, Canada, said she carries a white flag in the front seat for such occasions and renders an "I surrender" movement whenever a no-no is committed at the wheel.

And here's a sweeter alternative.

"My children and I accidentally cut someone off on the road," said Laura of Biloxi, Miss. "I felt so bad when it happened, as I did not mean to. The kids were so upset when they saw the reaction of the driver that they scurried into their school backpacks, drew a hasty picture of a rainbow with a sad face, with 'I'm sorry' written on it.

"They held it up to the back window. Through my rearview mirror I saw the driver give a big grin and mouth 'That's OK.' Now I carry that picture in my car and if anything like that happens, I hold it up and also mouth 'I'm sorry.' "

Valley billboard opponents raising money for campaign

Residents of the Jones Falls Valley -- embroiled in a battle over billboards seen from their vistas and by thousands of commuters who pass daily on the Jones Falls Expressway -- are raising money to cover legal fees in their fight against three proposed billboards.

Valley residents are trying to halt proposed signs in Remington, Hampden and Woodberry. All would be illuminated, up to 95 feet high and located close to the rowhouses in the areas.

The city's Board of Municipal Zoning Appeals has approved the proposed billboards in Remington and Hampden, while nixing the one proposed for Woodbury. All three signs are slated for review by the city's Circuit Court.

Some drivers will get to let the air out of bags

Some drivers will be allowed to deactivate their vehicles' air bags when the federal government completes regulations.

The devices, blamed for 80 deaths in the United States, are the subject of rules proposed by the National Highway Traffic Safety DTC Administration centering on installation of air bag on-off switches by car dealers and certified mechanics -- but only under certain circumstances.

Drivers could get permission to have the switches installed if their vehicle has no back seat, they suffer from a medical condition such as dwarfism, sit less than 10 inches from the air bag or are unable to accommodate all passengers under age 12 in the back seat, the proposed changes say.

Some two-seater cars come with an on-off switch allowing adults to shut off the air bags when a child is riding in the passenger seat.

The NHTSA estimates that more than 2,000 lives have been saved by air bags. But the bags, which inflate at up to 200 mph, have been linked to the deaths of 80 people, including 44 children.

The NHTSA advises that children under 12 always ride in the back seat.

Shortcuts

A $1.3 million contract to extend Technology Drive in Harford County has been approved by the Maryland Transportation Authority. The work, to be done at Interstate 95 and Route 22, is aimed at improving access to the county's Higher Education and Applied Technology Center. The $1.3 million construction project is expected to be completed in August.

Pub Date: 10/13/97

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