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Wear a helmet or not? Seems clear-cut to us

By JEAN HELLER

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 30, 2000


So Jessie and I are driving through downtown last week and stop at a light, waiting to make a left turn. A man pulls up next to us on a motorcycle.

He is in his late 30s or early 40s. He is nicely dressed, clean-shaven and looks as if he has an entire allotment of brain. But he is not wearing a motorcycle helmet. I know. I know. It isn't required any more. But here's the hitch. The little boy riding behind the man and clinging to him with both arms was wearing a helmet.

So how is it that Dad cares enough about his son to put a helmet on him but doesn't care enough about his son to put a helmet on himself? We were just wondering.

* * *

Those of you who visit here regularly are aware by now that I harbor some serious hard feelings for people who run red lights. And I am not alone.

One day last week, I was sitting at my least-favorite intersection, Roosevelt Boulevard and 28th Street. I was eastbound on Roosevelt. I was first in line at the red light. The light turned green. I started into the intersection. So did the cars on either side of me.

We were halfway through the intersection when a big, royal blue Peterbilt tractor hauling a very long trailer started his left turn from westbound Roosevelt to southbound 28th Street, across our paths. Three cars, at least, had to stand on their noses to stop in order to avoid being hit.

This is inexcusable. People are getting killed, either running red lights or being hit by those who do. There was a fatality recently at the giant intersection of Gandy Boulevard and Fourth Street caused by someone who ran a red light.

Fifteen states, including California, New York, North Carolina, Illinois, Arizona and Washington, are using cameras to photograph and identify drivers who run red lights. The cameras are mounted at problem intersections. They first photograph the car in the intersection and then the vehicle license plate. After the images are checked by police officers, the owner of record is sent a citation by registered mail.

If the owner was not the driver, the owner must identify who the driver was, and the citation is directed to the offender.

Now before you start yelling, "Invasion of privacy!" understand that not every car that passes by the camera is photographed. Only those running red lights.

Sadly, the state of Florida is not one of the states using the system. There have been attempts at legislation, but the efforts have never come close to success.

Now, St. Petersburg police and traffic officials, some of whom have wanted the system for years, are getting serious about it.

They are looking around for other jurisdictions that might want the system, too. If the legislature won't enact legislation for the whole state, perhaps it will act on behalf of the jurisdictions that specifically request it.

One of the matters at issue is state law requiring a citation to be handed from the officer who saw the violation to the offender. But, according to Lt. Tom Carey, head of the police traffic division, there already are exceptions.

"An officer at the scene of an accident doesn't always hand out a ticket on the spot," Carey said. "If he has to investigate, he sends the citation by certified mail after he determines who was at fault."

St. Petersburg traffic guru Angelo Rao, who has been the most outspoken advocate of the system, said he thinks the mood of the public is turning in favor of it.

"St. Petersburg is the fifth-worst place in the country for red-light-running fatalities," Rao said. "Obviously, that's not a statistic we're proud of at all. But I think this might be the time we can get something done about it. I'm finally getting yelled at by the public, and I think that's the resounding force that's going to make this happen."

The evidence from other states indicates that the camera systems result in a 42 percent decrease in red-light-running fatalities.

"The evidence also shows that other offenses, like speeding, also drop as drivers modify their behavior," Rao said.

* * *

Street Closure Alert: City of St. Petersburg crews have closed the westbound lanes of 22nd Avenue S between 40th and 43rd streets to rehab a 30-inch sewer line. Traffic is being rerouted on 18th Avenue S.

* * *

Every once in a while, we find ourselves in a traffic situation where we don't remember the rules. It happens more and more as we get farther and farther from the day we studied for our first driver's license. So, as a public service, we're going to review one traffic rule a week here. We hope it's helpful. We don't want to irritate anybody.

This week's rule is perfect for the season: When a traffic signal goes out, perhaps in a torrential rain, who has the right of way? The answer is that all drivers must treat the intersection as if it were a four-way stop.

* * *

Jessie has developed a new -- cue the drum roll -- rating system for potholes. Class One is a dip that makes you grunt and hope you didn't damage a tire. Class Two, you say the heck with the tire and hope you didn't crack an axle. Class Three triggers your seat belt and threatens whiplash while firming up your resolve never to drive that street again.

This week's Eyeball Jiggler of the Week (EJW) was submitted by Nancy Sanford, and Jessie rates it a Class Two. It is at the exit from southbound I-275, right before you make a left turn onto 38th Avenue. It is a major-league sink in the road extending out from the curb, lying in wait for your left tires.

If you stop for a red light and roll through it slowly when the light turns green, it might feel like a benign roller coaster. But if you hit it at full speed, you'd better have your dentist's number handy.

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

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