On area highways, police step up efforts against aggressive driving

Tollbooth operators aiding in crackdown

March 20, 2001|By Peter Hermann | Peter Hermann,SUN STAFF

Kevin M. Anderson maneuvered his white Ford Mustang through rush-hour traffic on Interstate 95 when two cars ahead of him suddenly veered out of the lane.

Anderson focused on a black Pontiac. The Pontiac's driver hit the brakes, darted to the right and then raced down the Keith Avenue exit ramp near the Fort McHenry toll plaza.

Anderson found what he was looking for: an aggressive driver. A seven-year veteran of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police Department, the officer flipped on the red and blue lights in his unmarked cruiser and took off after the Pontiac.

"Do you remember that lane change back there?" Anderson asked the Pontiac's driver, Billie Jo Lancellotti, 29, of Baltimore.

The officer is part of a new team of transportation police that is targeting aggressive drivers on Baltimore-area highways. And the team is using a different strategy to find them. Radar guns are being hidden in highway maintenance vehicles. State highway crews are using radios to report erratic drivers.

"We intend to crack down on those who choose to risk the lives of others by failing to obey traffic laws," said Col. Larry E. Harmel, whose officers patrol 52 miles of highway.

Tollbooth operators at the Harbor Tunnel Thruway and Fort McHenry Tunnel have handed out pamphlets advising drivers about the stepped-up enforcement and the "signs of an aggressive driver" - abruptly changing lanes, driving on the shoulder and crossing a double-yellow line in the tunnels.

State police who patrol I-95 north of the Beltway to the state line are assisting in the crackdown.

"The main purpose of this is to correct people's behavior," Anderson said. "A lot of people just don't pay attention to road signs."

Lancellotti, the Pontiac driver, said she braked and then veered into an adjacent lane because the car ahead of her had unexpectedly slowed. "He put his brakes on," she explained to the officer.

Anderson told her she could have avoided the risky maneuver by not tailgating. He wrote her a $70 ticket, charging her with an unsafe lane change.

"I'll fight it," Lancellotti said later. "It's my first offense."

In his first 90 minutes on the road, Anderson pulled over eight cars. There was the small Toyota, heading south on I-95. As it sped by the officer's Mustang, Anderson glanced at the radar screen in his car - it read 68 mph.

"He's almost caught up to the vehicle ahead of him," Anderson said as he pursued the Toyota.

The man got a warning.

Another driver, this one behind the wheel of a silver Audi A4, pulled up right behind the officer. Anderson moved over to let the Audi pass. Then the officer promptly pulled the car over for exceeding the 55-mph speed limit by 18 miles.

Anderson had just returned to I-95 when a Chevrolet pickup zoomed by his Mustang. The officer clicked a button on the radar's hand-held remote control.

"This guy is the fastest vehicle on the highway right now," Anderson said as he pulled up behind the pickup.

The truck driver slowed down and eased onto the shoulder of the road.

As Anderson walked toward the truck, the driver thrust his left arm out the car window and displayed a Baltimore police badge.

Anderson chatted with the off-duty officer and returned to his cruiser - without writing a ticket.

"I did read him the riot act," Anderson said, quickly noting that he had given warnings to other drivers. "I lectured him about his driving behavior."

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