Drivers, this is a red light...Stop!
I dont know their names but I have their number. They are drivers who determinedly, even willfully, and with impunity run red lights at the Maple and Main Streets intersection in Florence.
Drivers like those with Massachusetts license plate number G 149, or 491 4RE, or 3887 KY, 8987 XN, 8888 ZX, 3753 TP, 7235 HX, 312 PSE.
These are numbers recorded in just a dozen or so pedestrian crossings of the intersection during the summer. I could log hundreds and hundreds in the course of an eight-hour day, if I had the time, the responsibility and police authority to do so.
Frequently as I step off the curb on the walk signal another car will barrel through the intersection, prompting other pedestrians to utter brutally unflattering comments about the driver.
...this is a green light, go!
Viewed from the sidewalk, these rogue drivers do not appear to be doddering and nearly blind, the common view of elderly motorists and the subject of fresh concerns. They are mostly young - at least from my generational perspective - and drive very heavy, mostly newer model cars, SUVs and trucks, giving off an arrogance and downright hostility toward pedestrians and basic traffic laws, such as red means stop. Traffic laws are for someone else, not me, they appear to believe.
So as the debate heats up over cracking down on the elderly driver, who mistakenly floors the accelerator rather than the break and plows into a farmers market crowd or a plate-glass CVS storefront, the issue is a broader and more serious one.
Vehicles are on average bigger and more lethal, and, increasingly, speeds and driving practices that might be appropriate on the interstate highways are becoming commonplace on city streets.
And the police seem to be on sabbatical when it comes to enforcing in-town speeding and basic traffic violations such as running red light, turning right on red where it is prohibited, and refusing to yield for pedestrians. Stationing a cruiser in the parking lot of the state DPW lot on Locust Street does not get the job done when the action is in the middle of downtown Florence, a mile away.
Pedestrians, this means walk...But watch out!
I have been crossing the Maple and Main Streets intersection almost daily for some 13 years and have yet to observe a driver stopped and ticketed for any of the above violations. Why is that?
A get tougher policy on elderly drivers, such as road tests after a certain age - maybe 75 - has merit but only if it is combined with an across-the-board crackdown on dangerous and illegal in-town driving behavior.
Most of us were children of parents who should have been grounded long before they were. I remember my mother shortly before she went to a nursing home with a diagnosis of advanced Alzheimers calling from a shopping center to report she could not recall where she had left her car. It should have occurred to us sooner that it was not safe for her and others to even drive a car, let alone lose it.
Many of us are now parents of children who drive too fast, take too many chances and know little about road etiquette and yet we dont intervene.
And so these children will have to consider how to deal with us - their own parents - if they become concerned that age and failing health have impaired our judgment and driving skills.
Highway safety, in the end, is not a matter that should be left to families to handle on their own. There is a proper regulatory role for government to ticket and prosecute those who break the traffic laws and to take steps to protect us from drivers - young , middle aged and elderly - who are a threat to themselves and the rest of us as a result of arrogance, selfishness, or stupidity.
Meanwhile, for those of you traveling through Florence, Im the guy with the ball-point pen jotting down numbers on a scrap of paper as I wait for the walk signal at Maple and Main streets. There used to be a concept known as citizen arrests - a practice that probably appeals to many of us when we witness flagrant and dangerous disregard for public safety and simple courtesy.