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Dr. Delay

This Club could make downtown safer for cars

Jean Heller

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By JEAN HELLER, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times
published January 12, 2003

We're taking a little side trip this week, down a path that might help reduce auto thefts in the city of St. Petersburg. It's less work for the police. It's less hassle and grief for car owners. And it means fewer payouts for insurance companies.

And, who knows, if insurance payouts drop, perhaps insurance premiums will follow.

Uh, well, forget that last part.

It will never happen.

If you are the owner of a vehicle often targeted by car thieves, and if you live or work in the city of St. Petersburg, you might be eligible to get a free anti-theft device called the Club.

The St. Petersburg Police Department gets them under a federal grant and has been distributing them without charge in neighborhoods where the incidence of car theft is high, and to individual owners of target cars, trucks and vans.

Jessie and I are going to give you a partial list of the vehicles that qualify and then tell you how to check to see whether you qualify if your vehicle isn't on the list.

DODGE/CHRYSLER: LeBaron, Caravan, Ram truck, Dynasty, Acclaim, Reliant, Spirit, Jeep. The models in particular jeopardy right now were built after 1996.

SATURN: 1991-1996 models.

GENERAL MOTORS: Chevrolet Caprice, Oldsmobile Cutlass, Chevrolet Monte Carlo and Cadillac.

NISSAN ALTIMA: 1993-1997 models.

TOYOTA CAMRY: 1985-1992 models.

If your make and model isn't listed above, don't assume that you don't qualify. The list of cars most favored by thieves is evolving constantly, and if yours has slipped onto police radar, you'll get a free Club.

For example, Hondas have been frequent targets in the past. They're not on the formal list now, but yours might qualify.

Lately, the hot cars (no pun intended) are Dodges and Chryslers.

If you want to check on your wheels, call the St. Petersburg Police Auto Theft Unit between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. They'll take your information over the phone, and if you qualify, the officers will leave a Club with your name on it at the front desk of police headquarters on Central Avenue.

When you stop by to pick it up, have your driver's license, the vehicle registration and your license plate number with you.

If you drive a late-model vehicle, you won't qualify if the car or truck comes equipped with an immobilizer. This is a computer chip imbedded in the ignition key. Vehicles equipped with these devices cannot be started by jimmying open the steering column to bypass the ignition lock.

Studies by the Highway Loss Data Institute show that immobilizers have cut theft rates for certain models by as much as 50 percent. They are now standard in many high-end vehicles, including Jeep's Grand Cherokee line.

You can check your ignition key for yourself. If there is something imbedded in head of the key next to the blade, chances are that's an immobilizer, in which case you don't need a Club.

Meanwhile, the police offer these tips to reduce auto theft:

Always close all windows, lock all doors and take the keys with you.

Use an anti-theft device such as a steering wheel lock, alarm system or ignition kill switch.

Never leave a vehicle unattended with the motor running.

Copy your license plate number and vehicle identification number on a card and keep them with your driver's license.

Park your vehicle with the wheels turned. This makes the vehicle difficult to tow.

Always park in well-lighted areas.

Most of those tips fall into the "Duh!" category, but it never hurts to refresh memories.

* * *

We received a desperate plea from a reader who is frustrated and nervous about making a left turn from westbound Roosevelt Boulevard on to southbound Interstate 275 without a light to control traffic.

The reader noted that other entrances to the interstate do have traffic control devices and wondered if, in all the improvements being made to the interstate right now, there might be a traffic signal in her future.

We asked the state roadies, who weren't encouraging. There are no plans for a light there now, spokesman John McShaffrey said. But this does not mean, he added, that there can't be consideration given to a traffic signal at a later date.

Technically, Roosevelt isn't a part of the current highway improvements. Yes, there has been equipment and workers on Roosevelt, but they were there in support of something going on overhead. The ongoing construction is strictly an interstate project.

This reader also complained that once across Roosevelt, she had to wait for an opening in two lanes of traffic entering the interstate from eastbound Roosevelt, which have the right of way.

I can imagine that this is annoying, but at least the writer stops. About a year ago, a woman who had just made the left from Roosevelt ran the yield sign and nearly broadsided us. We had no room to move over because the right lane was occupied. So we blew the horn and the woman swerved left to avoid us.

Then she actually tailed us all the way downtown and pulled into the Times parking lot behind us to scream at how we almost forced her off the road. When we mentioned that she was the one who had the yield, she denied it.

How can anybody argue with ignorance?

* * *

Speaking of the interstate, what in the world has happened to the pavement in the southbound lanes south of the Howard Frankland Bridge? We're not talking about the new and temporary pavement. We're talking about the road surface that's been there for years.

It looks as if somebody dragged some heavy equipment along and gouged out the asphalt.

While it won't ring your bell, it does get the nod as our Eyeball Jiggler of the Week.

-- Dr. Delay can be reached by e-mail at , by fax at (727) 893-8675 or by snail mail at 490 First Ave., S, St. Petersburg 33701.

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