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Police crack down on unsafe motorists


The middle-aged woman in the brown Volvo, whom police stopped on Centennial Lane Thursday morning, just couldn't believe what the uniformed officer told her: She was traveling 55 mph in a 40 mph zone.

"I didn't realize I had picked up that much speed coming out of Burleigh Manor," said the woman. "I wish he would give me a warning."

Not a chance.

Police fined her $55 for excessive speed and $25 for not wearing her seat belt. The woman was among the first drivers cited as police last week stepped up a campaign against speeders on streets surrounding local schools, which open tomorrow.

A sophisticated new weapon -- a $1,300 laser "speed controller" is being employed in the crackdown. The equipment is simple to use: Police point a laser gun-like device at an oncoming car, and a large, black digital display board with green numbers registers the car's speed.

The speed controller is much more precise than radar and costs twice as much, police said. It can pick up cars as far away as 2,700 feet.

Police will use the speed controller in school zones periodically this school year to help reduce speed, and in residential areas where neighbors have complained about excessive speed.

"I want to send a message to motorists traveling through school zones that speeders will be ticketed," Police Chief James N. Robey said in a written statement.

When school is in session, the speed limit drops from 40 mph to 25 mph near Centennial High School, police said.

Police set up the speed-detecting device on Centennial Lane because of several serious accidents there.

In March 1991, Andrea Barlow, a junior at Centennial High, died after her Honda Accord collided with a pickup truck as she pulled out of Waterfront Drive. Two of her friends were seriously injured.

That accident was among 10 at the intersection in the early part of 1991.

This school year, officers will also follow school buses on their routes to make sure motorists comply with traffic laws. Motorists must stop for school buses when their lights are flashing.

"What we're trying to do is encourage people to comply voluntarily" with speed limits, said Sgt. Lee Goldman, traffic supervisor.

So far this year in the county, 11 people have been killed in traffic accidents; 20 percent of the fatalities were alcohol-related, police said.

Twenty-one people died in accidents last year, and 42 percent of those were alcohol-related, police said. Seat belts would have decreased the injuries by 40 percent, police said.

Why do motorists speed?

"It's an attitude," Sgt. Goldman said. "They have . . . an idea of how fast they can go and control their car.

"The problem is when people encounter trouble and can't control it."

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