Thursday, December 13, 2007

Put the hammer down

Too many government people are carrying hammers around these days and nary a piggy bank is safe.

Intent on spending our fuel tax dollars on things like museums, pet projects, mass transit, landscaping and just about anything but highway repairs, these hammering fools have shattered just about every porcelain piggy within reach.

Something’s got to change.

The solution is not creating more ways to fill more piggy banks with taxpayer dollars. That’s just what the people with hammers want. They have the hammers, after all.

Taxpayers should exercise their rights to air grievances with lawmakers and take their hammers away.

A great many truckers and highway users are running short on nickels and dimes to put in their own banks these days.

It’s time our state and federal elected officials exercised more fiscal responsibility with the highway dollars we send them. Otherwise, the federal Highway Trust Fund will be broke by 2009.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Taking aim at Big Brother

Despite the risk to public safety, I have to admit to feeling guilty pleasure at a recent incident in Knoxville, TN, where a guy was charged with shooting a red-light camera three times. With a gun, not with the bird. To read the story, click here.

It seems one Clifford Clark III, for reasons unknown – who has never gotten a ticket from one of the cameras – was accused of blasting away at the camera with a deer rifle. He was stopped because he was acting “suspiciously” and the officers backtracked from the rifle in his car to the slain camera.

The article in the Daily Telegraph noted that, “In Britain there are many examples of speed cameras being beaten, burned and hacked down by angry motorists,” but no reported shootings. Obviously the British have more time on their hands; here in America, we like our justice swift and certain.

Our town, Gallatin, TN, installed three red-light cameras this year and thus joined the expanding social experiment in police surveillance of our daily activities. The cams are on a main drag, several miles apart, and I pass at least one of them every day. Each of these intersections had seen numerous crashes as drivers raced through the red or executed right turns into legally oncoming traffic.

I used to live just down the street from one location, and was amazed at the number of red-light runners, from Kias to Kenworths. It still happens, of course. I recently saw an armored truck driver slap the steering wheel after he saw the camera flash in his rearview mirror. I laughed with the pleasure of one who wasn’t caught.

I have issues with these cameras. There’s the question of verifying who was driving – cars don’t run red lights, people do. (Note to self: Maybe that’s a slogan for a new association – the NRA: National Redlightrunners Association. I wonder if Mr. Clark belongs to that other NRA bunch?)

There have also been some studies indicating that, while these cameras can reduce T-bone wrecks, they don’t reduce rear-end collisions. If anything, those collisions often increase as drivers suddenly slow or stop. The cameras are supposed to click only after the light is red, but why take chances of being caught in the middle of the intersection? Slam, BAM! You got insurance, ma’am?

The police chief, with whom I exchanged a number of e-mails opposing the installation of these lights, says it has made the roads safer. The net result for me has been increased anxiety as I approach these intersections. I check for traffic waiting on the cross street and wonder how many seconds I have before the light goes amber. Will I be close enough to get through or have to jam on the brakes – the legal speed limit at our lights ranges from 30 to 50 – and hope all the drivers behind me do likewise?

Often as not, I accelerate as the seconds tick away on the green and I get closer to the light. This is not, I suspect, what Gallatin’s finest would like to happen. But so far, no gotchas on my end, although my wife got dinged by not quite stopping before turning right at a red light.

And I’m worried. She owns a rifle and used to be a pretty good shot. Maybe I better hide the ammo.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Carload of teens: precious, dangerous cargo

I saw a scary sight this morning. Here in Missouri, we’re iced in at the present. Streets in my neighborhood are wretched. Not fit for the best four-wheel drive. But, there was my neighbor’s teenager, climbing in a car with a bunch of pals, iced-over windows, snow still all over the back windshield. Off they flew on the glazed rink that was my street.

What concerned me the most was that there were at least seven kids in that car. I am not one to spout off “there should be a law against that” but there SHOULD be a law against this. And in many states, there is. Sort of.

Frequently, you will read in our Web news or hear on “Land Line Now” on XM Satellite Radio Channel 171 about driving laws restricting teens as they learn to drive. State Legislative Editor Keith Goble reports frequently on graduated licensing.

Most states now have that kind of law, and many include passenger limitations as the kids are learning. Some states have good laws, and some are weak. None are really great. A great law in my opinion would be one in which seven kids in a car with a teen driver is a primary violation. That means the police can pull a kid over who appears to have more than three other teens in the car.

Like a sensible person would really need a study to tell them a load of kids and a loud radio blasting the new Korn CD is not distracting – but there’s a number of excellent studies that support a limited passenger law for teens.

In 2004, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety published one, declaring that a little more than half of all crash deaths involving 16-year-old drivers occurred when they had teen passengers in their vehicles.

There’s a new study out that pinpoints behavior. It’s no surprise that when teenagers drive with other kids in the car, they drive faster and basically engage in riskier stuff, like that crazy lane-switching thing. All while everyone in the car is talking or texting on their cell phones.

I’ve always been an advocate of primary passenger restriction for teen drivers. I did it with my own kid some years back. The graduated licensing laws are good, but not tough enough. Police can’t and won’t enforce them, and many kids simply ignore the restrictions. Their parents ignore the rules, too. It’s never YOUR kid who is a bad driver.

What is a typical graduated licensing law? Let’s look at Alabama. There, teens can get a learner’s permit at age 15, must hold it for six months and complete 30 hours of supervised driving before moving on to the restricted license. Teens must be at least 16 to get that restricted license, during which they cannot drive with more than three passengers (not including a parent) and must have adult supervision between midnight and 6 a.m. Teens can get a regular license at 17 and then restrictions go bye-bye.

I am zeroing in on Alabama because earlier this month in Hayden, AL, three of Hayden High School’s cheerleaders were killed in a single-car crash, a devastating accident that has shocked the whole state. The media reported that the three dead girls were in the car with four other teens, “… when the car left a two-lane highway, went over an embankment and landed upside down.”

My heart breaks for the families and these girls. What caused the 17-year-old driver to lose control of a car carrying such precious cargo? Reports say the kids were “apparently laughing and singing as they headed back from a cheerleading clinic.”

What a horrible Christmas for those friends and families.

This “no more than three passenger” rule needs enforcement – in every state, in every county, in every town – and by every law enforcement officer and every parent.

Maybe it even needs to be extended to age 20, or until the driver has safely owned a full license for two years.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Youth poems are both ‘Pooh’ perfect and grittily realistic

As the new copy editor for Land Line Magazine, I have read some fascinating magazine articles, columns, Web news, radio scripts, and blogs in the past few months. Few pieces, however, have been as sincerely written and poignant as the poems written by Land Line’s youth readers.

The youth entries were divided into the following categories: age 10 and under, ages 11 to 14, and ages 15 to 17. You can read the top winners for all three age categories in the February issue of Land Line Magazine.

As readers will probably recall, the poems written by adults were featured in the November issue, which was the first Land Line issue I worked on. The quality (and quantity) of entries were so impressive that I agreed to help read the poems in the 18 and younger division.

One reason I volunteered was that I’ve taught poetry to college composition students and have often been impressed by the writing ability of 18-year-olds. Sometimes, though, I have been disappointed by an exquisitely written sonnet or brilliant free verse – because what is lacking is heart and authenticity.

Our youngest poets, age 10 and under, are all about heart and authenticity. Their poems may not always display a perfect command of meter, but they bring a smile to the face and a chuckle of recognition. As that great critic Winnie the Pooh (known to all his very best friends as Pooh) said, “Poetry and Hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is go where they can find you.”

Here for your enjoyment is such a poem, which earned “Honorable Mention” status.

“Trucking”

By Ecko, Age 10

T – Trucks, flat face, big nose any kind, all different trucks.

R – Rest stops, coffee, soda, snacks take a break before you get back in your truck.

U – U-hauls anywhere, everybody has to drive for something somewhere.

C – Cars you have to watch for and even motorcycles, walkers, and bike riders.

K – Kids from bus stops you have to be careful they even might go honk, honk.

I – It’s getting late so you might want to get some sleep to be new tomorrow.

N – Near, far you still miss your family, everybody always misses someone.

G – Grant Trucking is my family business!

Ecko is from Maine. Her father is an owner-operator truck driver and OOIDA member.

Another “Honorable Mention” entry takes us along for a ride, giving us specific details and vivid imagery. As Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) wrote in a letter to a friend: “Prose wanders around with a lantern and laboriously schedules and verifies the details and particulars of a valley and its frame of crags and peaks, then Poetry comes, and lays bare the whole landscape with a single splendid flash.”

This young poet does just that.

“The Trucker”

By Jason, Age 14

Sitting alone in the cab of a Pete,

A long way to go ‘til I find my way,

Traveling the roads on an air-ride seat,

To reach my next stop the following day.

I’m backed in early, offloading the flour,

Got the freight off quick and loaded again,

I’m shifting to tenth at half past the hour,

Heading for PA, blasting down I-10.

Called up ahead and the roads are all clear,

I’ll be home soon if I keep at this pace,

Popping the clutch and splitting eighteenth gear,

Into town to deliver to the place.

Now I’m back at home for just a few days,

I’m not home a lot, but boy this job pays!

Jason lives in Pennsylvania. His dad has been driving long haul for 30-some years.