States launch crackdown targeting aggressive drivers

July 19, 2006|By NICK SHIELDS | NICK SHIELDS,SUN REPORTER

As Maryland Transportation Authority officer Verlon Morrow drove an unmarked Pontiac yesterday on Interstate 95 just north of Baltimore, about a half-dozen cars zoomed past, doing at least 80 mph.

On this stretch of highway, Morrow says, he finds an almost unlimited array of aggressive drivers.

"Look how close these people are to each other," he said. "They teach you not to do that in Driving 101."

Morrow is among the police officers from Maryland and beyond who are set to participate in a crackdown on aggressive driving. Under the "Smooth Operator" campaign next week, officers will be making a point to pull over drivers who speed, run red lights or stop signs, weave through traffic or tailgate.

Another crackdown is scheduled for the last week of August and the first week of September.

The campaign was announced yesterday at Maryland Transportation Authority headquarters near the Beltway at the Key Bridge. A half-dozen law enforcement agencies, including the state police in Maryland and Pennsylvania and the Arlington County police in Virginia, were represented at the announcement.

More than 90 state and local law enforcement agencies from Maryland, Virginia, Washington and Pennsylvania are participating in the program. The campaign, which began in 1997, is designed to notify drivers about the dangers of aggressive driving -- and its consequences.

"When law enforcement bands together in a concentrated and coordinated effort against aggressive driving we can make a tremendous difference and save lives," said Gary W. McLhinney, chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

Ragina Averella, a spokeswoman for AAA-Mid-Atlantic, said a 2005 AAA poll conducted in Maryland and Washington revealed that motorists listed aggressive driving as a top safety concern.

"AAA supports targeted enforcement campaigns that are designed to reduce aggressive and reckless driving," she said. "We believe the Smooth Operator is an excellent example of such enforcement."

Morrow, the officer driving the unmarked car on I-95, pulled out his ticket book. Last Friday, his book showed that he ticketed a man for speeding at 105 mph in a 55-mph area, driving a vehicle in a race on a highway and negligent driving. The speeding ticket alone will cost the driver $520.

Morrow said he stopped writing the driver tickets after the fines exceeded $1,000.

Morrow said aggressive drivers remain his pet peeve, in part "because I'm going to be the one to say: `Mrs. Johnson, I'm sorry to inform you that your loved one ...'"

Eric Bolton, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said that aggressive driving accounted for one-third of all fatal traffic crashes in 2003. Last year, 5,653 crashes in Maryland involved aggressive drivers, officials said.

Mac Fedge, 24, of Reston, Va., attended yesterday's public safety announcement with his mother, Kathy.

Fedge, who was in a wheelchair, said he was driving in Great Falls, Va., five years ago when an aggressive driver crossed the double yellow lines to pass another car, hitting Fedge's Honda Civic head-on.

The former Pentagon intern and swim coach said he was unconscious for about a month and now has no recollection of the accident. He said he has had 23 operations since the accident but still has many aspirations.

"My goal -- is to be fully independent," he said.

His mother said she supports the Smooth Operator program.

"If we could remove the possibility of any aggressive driving in the world, it would be such a nice place," Kathy Fedge said.

nicholas.shields@baltsun.com

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