- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 29, 2005

An annual safe-drivers campaign in the region has nabbed nearly 400,000 motorists, about 130,000 more than last year.

The campaign, known as Smooth Operator, cracks down on aggressive drivers through a variety of tactics and electronic devices. Officials recently released the final statistics for the program, which ran in four phases from May through September.

“It raised the public level of awareness about aggressive driving, as well as the awareness of our own officers,” said Lt. C.D. Miller, the Maryland State Police’s executive officer for field operations.

Officials in the District, Maryland and Virginia said they caught more speeders, tail-gaters, red-light runners and other aggressive drivers, in part, because they extended the enforcement period from four to five weeks and used mobile speed cameras and voice-activated technology in patrol cars.

Lt. Miller said nearly 600 people die every year in Maryland because of traffic accidents.

“That’s a huge number,” he said. “Each one of those persons has a name, a family.”

Lt. Miller advised motorists who encounter an aggressive driver to steer clear to avoid a crash or an episode of “road rage.”

“The best thing to do is to move over and get out of their way,” he said. “Let them pass, then call #77” to report the incident to authorities.

Vernon Betkey, the chief of the State Highway Administration’s highway-safety office, said 58 persons died last year in accidents attributed to aggressive driving, compared to 62 in 2003 and 71 in 2002.

In the District, more than 91,000 citations and warnings were issued during this year’s campaign, almost twice as many as the 53,000 in 2004.

Capt. Melvin Gresham of the Metropolitan Police Department’s traffic safety division said the program has improved safety on city streets.

“I would view it as successful,” he said. “The safety and welfare of our citizens is the main concern and the driving force” behind the program.

There have been 37 traffic deaths in the District so far in 2005, compared to 40 at this time last year.

Earlier this summer, city police began using two camera-equipped vans to catch motorists speeding through construction zones.

The vans, part of the department’s expansion of its automated traffic-enforcement program, are used in work zones instead of the patrol cars because they are more visible to drivers.

City officials said they had no statistics on how much money the program has generated.

Aggressive driving in Maryland carries a penalty of five points and as much as $500 in fines. Virginia has a mandatory fine of at least $500, and violators must attend a driver-improvement clinic.

The District has no specific law against aggressive driving.

Smooth Operator began in 1997 with 18 law-enforcement agencies participating. More than 80 state and local law-enforcement agencies in the region are now involved.

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