Signs along Route 32 about mandatory headlight use bring questions from motorists


November 20, 2005|By JODY K. VILSCHICK

Signs recently went up along Route 32 between Clarksville (Route 108) and West Friendship (near Interstate 70) informing drivers of mandatory use of their headlights.

"Motorists have likely seen a number of the new signs installed in the past few weeks," said Dave Buck of the State Highway Administration.

Indeed, they have. And they've not been shy about contacting Traffic Talk with questions about them.

Charles Owen wondered why only in this section, but not the section of Route 32 between West Friendship and Eldersburg.

Sue McConnell just wondered about the rationale: "I presume it is a safety measure. Is this a test of the practice to see if it bears fruit?"

I wondered who determines speed limits along highways - the state or the county.

Buck set me straight. "SHA sets speed limits along state roads, including Route 32 in Howard County," he said.

To answer the other questions: A few months ago, SHA met with several elected officials and members of many communities along Route 32 to discuss short-term improvements, as well as the eventual long-term widening of the road between Route 108 and I-70. One of the outcomes of those talks, according to Buck, is the mandatory lights-on rule.

"The residents proposed, and SHA agreed, to institute mandatory headlight use between Route 108 and Route 144," he said. He noted that mandatory headlight use has been instituted elsewhere in Maryland, including Route 90 outside Ocean City and U.S. 15 south of Frederick (between U.S. 340 and Virginia).

"[Mandatory headlight use] allows increased visibility for motorists along the two-lane section of the road," Buck said.

Mandatory headlight use isn't the only safety precaution being put into place along that troublesome stretch of Route 32. Buck said the SHA also has agreed to reduce the speed limit from 55 mph to 50 mph along Route 32 between Ten Oaks Road and the Carroll County line. "This section has the highest number of driveways, access points and buses dropping off and picking up schoolchildren," he said.

But Ms. McConnell also was concerned about compliance. "Many drivers seem unable or unwilling to comply with the [headlights-on] practice, probably one car in five," she said. "Must be the same people who haven't figured out how to use their turn signals."

Buck acknowledged that the success of the new rule depends on compliance of motorists and enforcement by police. "Ongoing enforcement by the Howard County police will be needed to ensure compliance," he said.

I suspect that police enforcement also will be necessary to ensure that drivers travel at 50 mph.

Cell-phone use

Bixby Carruthers scolded me for owning up to using a cell phone occasionally while I drive.

"I want to chastise you for your ridiculous comments ... in your Nov. 6 article," he said.

He was referring to the statement, "We all claim to hate it when we see other drivers doing it, but let's be honest here: We all use our cell phones while we're out on Maryland roads." That was followed by a plea to put our cell phones down, or in lieu of that common sense, to at least follow some safety tips.

Not good enough for Mr. Carruthers. "It may surprise you to learn that not all of us out here who own cell phones are using them while we're driving," he said. "I happen to be one of the small minority of folks who think I owe a greater responsibility to my fellow man by concentrating on driving and not concentrating on blathering with a friend, spouse [or] business acquaintance."

He said that last weekend he and his wife were nearly struck head-on by a driver who was dialing her cell phone. "You literally cannot drive throughout either Baltimore City or county without encountering multiple drivers lost in the fog of a cell phone conversation rather than concentrating on driving a multiton vehicle through our streets," he said.

Mr. Carruthers also noted that he has seen police officers talking on cell phones while driving.

"This has literally gotten so insane that I question both the intelligence and honesty of our lawmakers for not waking up to this horror of public safety and doing something about stopping this ridiculous situation," he said. "Why in the world ... they refuse to do anything about something so dangerous ... defies imagination. Your comments were yet another wink at this stupid practice."

What is your driving dilemma? Contact Jody K. Vilschick at, send faxes to 410-715-2816 or mail letters to Traffic Talk, The Sun in Howard County, 30 Corporate Center, 10440 Little Patuxent Parkway, Suite 820, Columbia 21044. Include your full name and contact information or your comments will not be published or receive a response.

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