Proposal would ban roadside fund appeals

Bill's backers say groups pose hazard at crossings, annoyance to drivers

Carroll County

February 07, 2005|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

For Barry Boston, a law to ban the solicitation of money for charity along Carroll County highways will end what he says is a constant aggravation for him and hundreds of other motorists.

The owner of the Boston Inn on Route 140 in Westminster drives through the city's busiest intersections several times a day.

He used to donate money, he said, until he figured he was encouraging the solicitors. He said he tried to explain that he had already given when confronted with repeat requests, but that often led to belligerence. Now he tries to ignore "the bucket-toting panhandlers" who intimidate motorists and whose presence is both unsightly and unsafe, he said.

"You just get tired of it and there is the safety factor, especially in the snow," Boston said. "These people walk in and out of lanes. Sometimes, the light changes too quickly for them and they are stuck in traffic, dodging cars to race back to the median. It just doesn't look good, especially for visitors coming into town."

The county legislative delegation has introduced a proposal to eliminate the taps on car windows that precede requests for money.

"Personally, I won't put my window down and give," said Sen. Larry E. Haines, a Westminster resident and leader of the Carroll delegation.

Delegation support

The law garnered the unanimous support of the seven-member delegation last week and is expected to win passage in the General Assembly. It would ban anyone from soliciting money or donations of any kind while standing in the roadway, median, divider or intersection throughout the county.

Westminster claims some of Carroll's busiest and most intricate highway intersections, several with multiple lanes and double turn options. Adding pedestrians meandering among idling cars to the crush of traffic is one distraction too many, said Westminster Mayor Kevin E. Dayhoff.

Both Dayhoff and the city Police Department have received numerous complaints about the solicitations.

"These people are a dangerous distraction at what is already a complicated intersection," Dayhoff said. "They become one more obstacle to avoid. Crossroads are not a good place to raise funds."

The intersections of Route 140 at Route 97 and at Englar Road, both areas surrounded by shopping hubs, regularly attract a stream of people soliciting for various charities. Recently, an animal rights group and a Baltimore City church sent volunteers to the highway medians in Westminster, Boston said.

Constant complaints

"The legislation will be a great benefit," said Westminster police Maj. Dean Brewer. "We are constantly receiving complaints about individuals stepping into traffic and getting questions about where the money is going."

The collectors wait for the red light and then rush among the vehicles. Often, they tap on a window and hold up a bucket printed with a brief message.

Question of legitimacy

"You can't identify these people," Boston said. "How do you know if they are legitimate?"

The Sun was unable to contact groups that solicit for money along county highways for comment.

Haines told the audience at the annual legislation hearing Jan. 29 that he would help push the bill through the General Assembly.

The State Highway Administration prohibits soliciting on interstates but leaves bans on highways to the local jurisdictions.

The agency supports such efforts, said SHA spokesman Chuck Gischlar.

"We would definitely prefer that these solicitations took another avenue," Gischlar said. "This activity increases the risk of incidents. Motorists can't always see them, and they can't always get out of the vehicle's way."

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