Children take a stand against unsafe drivers

Caution Kids work to ensure that motorists obey the speed limit

April 29, 2005|By Tyrone Richardson | Tyrone Richardson,SUN STAFF

More than a year ago, Chelsie , a 15-year-old cocker spaniel, was struck and killed by a speeding motorist, leading its young owners and a handful of neighborhood friends to spearhead an attack to slow down traffic in their Worthington neighborhood.

The group of seven girls -- who live in the Shelley Lane area -- noticed that motorists weren't obeying the 25-mph limit. Members, between the ages of 8 and 13, formed the Caution Kids, and took their tough-love attack on speeders to the streets.

"We usually either tell our moms or tell [the motorists] to slow down," said Emmy Petti, an 8-year-old member of the group.

The children researched traffic and pedestrian safety, and named Garrett Morgan, who invented the traffic signal, the "First Caution Kid." In addition, the girls went door-to-door in their neighborhood, awarding certificates to good drivers and chastising those whom they had spotted speeding.

"They handed out fliers and came around to talk about what was in the flier," said Suzanne Havrilla, 46, a neighbor. "They are making a difference. I drive slowly over the hills, my kids now tease me that I go too slow."

Recently, the children teamed up with county police and Worthington Elementary School in Ellicott City to expand the project through the community. A few weeks ago, police installed a temporary radar board on Shelley Lane, another tool the Caution Kids hope will curb speeding on their quiet street.

Rewarding safety

This month, the girls received a Citizens Award from county police. The award is issued through nominations by officers.

"This is very uncommon to see a group at this age get together to impact the community," said David Proulx, a police spokesman. "There is more of a patrol presence in the community, but [the Caution Kids] voice has more of an impact."

A 4-foot yellow-and-red construction sign at the entrance to Worthington Elementary School marks another achievement for the group, reminding motorists to slow down.

"People stop in the office and say, `Oh my gosh, I was going really fast.' They notice how fast they really are going," said Amy Parker, a gifted-and-talented program teacher. The touch fastener sign allows the children to change the message each week, imparting new tips for motorists, such as "Park Your Cell Phone."

Spreading the message

The girls' message is reaching other children in the area. They said other students have erected signs of their own, reminding motorists to slow down and obey the traffic laws.

"You took a situation that was very sad and made a positive out of it," Annette Baldwin, a mother of one of the Caution Kids, said to the group. "That's something to be very proud of."

In June, the girls -- Mallory Baldwin and her sister Taylor Baldwin, Abigail Bickel, Rachel Petti and her sister Emmy Petti, Jaqui McDonald and Maddy Birus -- will hold a school assembly to recruit pupils for their group.

The Caution Kids girls feel so strongly about their cause that they promised "to slow down and obey the traffic laws" when they start to drive -- a promise their parents plan to hold them to.

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