- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

The Fairfax County Police Department yesterday began a 45-day crackdown on speeders and reckless drivers along U.S. Highway 1, also known as Richmond Highway, between Alexandria and the Prince William County line.
Police officials said they are increasing traffic patrols because two construction projects, coupled with a road closure after September 11, have made the stretch of road more crowded and dangerous. There have been seven deaths this year after none in all of 2001.
A team of officers from stations across Fairfax County are putting "Operation Safe Corridor" in motion using radar and laser speed-detection technology, message boards and dummy cruisers empty police cars parked along the highway.
The department hopes its efforts will reduce the number of speeders and automobile-related deaths, which have spiked since Jan. 1, said Officer Jacqi M. Smith. During the first 59 days of 2002, there were seven deaths resulting from crashes along that stretch up from zero during 2001 and seven during 2000, she said.
The closure of Woodlawn Road near Fort Belvoir after September 11 and the extended Wilson Bridge and Springfield Interchange projects "put more traffic on Richmond Highway, and it's a contributing factor to the increase in speeding and number of accidents," Officer Smith said.
A police study indicated that on Feb. 22 between 7 a.m. and 8 a.m., more than 95 percent of the cars traveling southbound on Richmond Highway in the Fort Belvoir area were speeding. Nineteen percent of the speeders were traveling more than 15 mph above the posted speed limit.
Police not only intend to use Operation Safe Corridor to dole out tickets, they plan to educate red-light runners, speeders, careless lane changers, reckless drivers and drivers who block intersections about the dangers of their habits.
"We're also hoping to educate pedestrians about the dangers of not using crosswalks," Officer Smith said. "If an officer sees someone on the side of the road getting ready to cross where there is no crosswalk, the officer is going to stop them and say, 'Look, it's not a safe place to cross. This is where you need to go.' This is really about education."
The maximum fines for speeding and red-light running are $200. Reckless driving is considered a class-one misdemeanor and can result in license suspension, a $1,000 fine and up to one year in prison, she said.
But the program is not being driven by the cash it could potentially bring to Fairfax County police, Officer Smith said. "We're not trying to make Richmond Highway a speed trap," she said. "Our motivation is to educate the public and make people realize that speeding is a serious offense."
Speed was determined to be a factor when two 21-year-old Marines, stationed at the Navy Annex building near the Pentagon, were killed in an accident on Richmond Highway on Jan. 27. Their Dodge Neon, which was headed north, veered off the road and hit a concrete barrier near Mount Vernon.
In a separate accident that occurred less than four miles away on the same day, three teen-agers, including a brother and sister, were killed when their Ford Mustang swerved off the highway near Fort Belvoir and flipped. Investigators said the accident occurred after the Mustang, which was traveling south, veered out of control during a lane change.
Although there may be no specific thread tying the accidents together, the busy commuter road is considered a "complex roadway," said Justin McNaull, AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman, and that can make it more dangerous especially for drivers who are not paying attention.
"Route 1 was built decades ago, and there's been significant growth around it. Yet there are still stretches that feel rather rural and curve in and out of wooded areas," Mr. McNaull said.
"When a road changes from urban to rural, then back to urban then back to rural, as a driver you're exposed to different threats."


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