Commooters block I-83 Strays: Highway workers round up a pair of cows that wandered onto the road from a Sparks-area farm.

The Intrepid Commuter

June 15, 1998

IF YOU happened to be in the beautiful valley south of Belfast Road on Interstate 83 Wednesday, you would have seen the ultimate in commuting intrepidly.

There, at a time just shy of the afternoon rush hour, a pair of cows wandered onto the highway -- no doubt in search of a happy hour that offered a cool drink from a nearby stream or a late-spring respite beneath a shade tree.

Truth is the bovines bolted from a Sparks area farm and made a break for Quaker Bottom Road. Concerned State Highway Administration workers from Hereford closed the right northbound lane of the interstate for 20 minutes to conduct an unofficial Texas-style roundup.

"It was an udderly difficult situation," punned the SHA's David Buck.

Smoother ride promised after I-83 resurfacing

Speaking of I-83, what gives with the half-baked patch job between the Baltimore city-county line and Interstate 695?

Your wheelster has received countless complaints about this paving job run amok. One poor soul -- who recently underwent surgery -- called the uneven road a "true incision buster." Have SHA engineers no heart?

Spokesman Buck promised smooth sailing there once again by jTC Independence Day. Resurfacing work is scheduled to begin this week -- and let's hope it occurs under cover of darkness so traffic won't jam the so-called expressway.

Once-spurned air bags now object of desire

Not long ago, many (vertically challenged) drivers were seeking to have their air bags disconnected amid safety worries.

What a difference a year makes.

Now, it seems, the device is red hot in the theft trade -- with an estimated $50 million worth of air bags stolen each year, accounting for 10 percent of all auto theft claims in 1997, insurance industry officials say.

"It's basically a replacement for the car stereo theft of the '80s and early '90s," said Julie Rochman, spokeswoman for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, based in Arlington, Va. "The air bags the thieves are going after are worth more than any other item in the passenger compartment."

Experts size it up this way: Following a crash, a new air bag can cost $1,000. But police say unscrupulous body shops buy stolen ones for $150 each and then charge $1,500, including installation.

Insurance premiums are not expected to rise because officials say the growing cost of air-bag thefts is offset by an overall decline in auto thefts.

The thieves are almost always filling an order from an auto body shop whose owner is trying to cut costs to maximize profits. This can include splicing, instead of replacing, the wiring harness attached to the air bag or, in some cases, not installing an air bag at all.

Removing an explosively armed air bag, particularly if it is done in a hurry, can leave a car in bad shape.

"When air bags are stolen, [the thieves] damage the steering wheel, the dash or cut the wiring harness," said one service man.

In 1996, an estimated 50,000 air bags were stolen in the United States -- roughly triple the number in 1993, said Ed Sparkman, a senior manager of vehicle support at the National Insurance Crime Bureau in Palos Hills, Ill. That equals a $50 million loss to the insurance industry, assuming the average replacement cost for an air bag is $1,000.

What's next? Insurance industry experts and law enforcement officials are mulling ways to combat air-bag theft by using a national registry of serial numbers.

Auto parts stores sell anti-theft devices for air bags or bolts that make it more difficult for a thief to remove the safety device.

Now you'll need a club to protect your vehicle and yet another club to guard your air bag. So much for a fast getaway.

Shortcuts

Intrepid One is seeking opinions on the aesthetics of those new sound barriers that line most of the Beltway. Call 410-783-1800, Ext. 4305, to spout off (from Anne Arundel County, dial 410-268-7736) or e-mail to intrepialtsun.com. The Carroll County Bureau of Roads Operations warns drivers to expect road construction on Bell, Baptist, Buffalo and Bowersox Roads next week.

Pub Date: 6/15/98

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