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Murrysville kicks off safe driving campaign

| Sunday, May 13, 2012, 4:36 p.m.

Murrysville is asking motorists to "Slow Down and Enjoy the Ride."

That's the theme of a safety campaign that will employ signs and roadside devices to slow traffic in the municipality.

The campaign, unveiled last week, originated when residents called police to complain about speeding. Municipal officials decided that law enforcement wasn't enough.

Last fall, Chief Administrator Don Pepe and his administration began developing a plan to address speeding and aggressive driving. They decided on a four-pronged approach, addressing the issue with education, public relations, public works and enforcement.

The Murrysville Traffic Safety Committee — comprising some 20 residents, along with members of the police force and municipal staff — are charged with making people aware of the campaign and developing ways to reduce incidents of speeding and aggressive driving, Mayor Joyce Somers said.

"The main hope is to make people aware they're speeding and slow them down," she said. "We want to make them aware of the consequences.

"I think a lot of people feel that if their car goes at high speeds, it's their right to do that," Somers said. "They don't think of the rights of others. It's the lifestyle that's needs to be looked at."

U.S. Marshal Thomas Fitzgerald Jr. was Murrysville's police chief when plans for the program began. Behavioral awareness is important to curtailing aggressive driving, he said.

"Something happens to us when we get behind the wheel of a car that changes our personalities," he said. "We become bigger and badder for some reason, and we're in a hurry. We have to learn to slow down."

Murrysville Council, which approved the committee in April, initially funded the program with a $2,000 grant. Half that money was assigned to the public works department for signs and related equipment; the remainder was used to take part in the PennDOT Anti-Aggressive Driving Panel in Harrisburg, and for other miscellaneous costs.

In addition, a state grant will pay for two speed monitor trailers and a Stealth-Stat device that keeps an electronic eye on traffic speed.

Lt. Rob Liermann, Murrysville's acting police chief, said equipment on the trailers displays the speed of passing vehicles, showing drivers how fast they are going. Most drivers, Liermann said, slow down when they see the displays.

In contrast, the Stealth-Stat device is a pole-mounted radar unit and computer that collects data, helping police to target specific areas for traffic patrols. The data also will help the municipality's engineer recommend speed limit changes for specific sections of roadway. Motorists cannot see the Stealth-Stat device, so they are not able to react.

The traffic safety committee also plans to educate motorists through programs designed to alter unsafe driving habits.

A speakers bureau will spread the safe driving message, and educational videos will air on the municipality's television channel. Committee members also expect to work with District Justice Charles Conway to develop driver education programs that can be used as an option to punitive measures.

Area businesses are doing their part to promote safer driving. And bumper stickers will be available for "Pace Cars" — vehicles whose drivers are expected to set an example.

The first "Pace Car" bumper sticker was affixed to the mayor's vehicle.

Officer Joe Bergamasco, the municipality's school resource officer, plans to have parents and teens enter into a driving contract, in which teens acknowledge their responsibility for driving safely.

Ellen Cappelli, a co-chair of the traffic safety committee, said police may be trained in conducting safe driver classes, and are working on a plan to recognize good driving practices.

"If someone in the community is driving and they're doing something correctly, they would receive a safe driving certificate," Cappelli said. "We punish people for doing something wrong, but we never reward them for doing something correct."

Murrysville's efforts have been noticed at the state level.

"They are taking a leading role in setting the example for other communities we hope will adopt many of these initiatives," said Catherine Tress, PennDOT safety press officer.

Mainly, Murrysville officials just hope motorists slow down.

"My goal is that ordinary people will try really hard to become safe drivers," Somers said. "If we can get 125 or 100 (bumper) stickers out there, this will be a reminder to people that they should slow down. I think reminding people is 90 percent of it."

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