Starting today, uniformed Maryland state troopers will be seated in bars along highways with high accident rates watching drinking customers and stopping those who appear drunk from driving off in their cars.
Other troopers, part of a specially trained team of veteran ticket writers, will patrol those same highways using a new radar device to catch speeders that is to sophisticated it cannot be spotted by CB radio users or detected by electronic gadgets that enable drivers to spot conventional radar.
Maryland's new crackdown on speeders and drunk drivers, announced yesterday, is called "Operation Yellow Jacket" and will be symbolized by bumblebee holding a speed radar gun that will be painted on the side of the state's canary yellow patrol cars.
"We are handpicked. We have to like writing tickets . . . if you don't like writing tickets, you aren't going to make it in this unit," said Trooper William Nelson, a 6-feet-3, nine-year veteran assigned to the team.
With his booming voice, Nelson explained to newsmen that the special units would patrol specific areas of the state identified through studies as having high incidents of accidents and speeding violations.
Pointing to a black box on his police cruiser's dashboard, Nelson said that new device - a radar unit that can spot speeders as far as 5,000 feet away - is a key element to stopping the speeder.
"Before we had this device, CBer's could spot us and then turn on their car lights to warn drivers coming in the opposite direction. With this device, we can spot cars on either side of the highway and we can detect speeders while we are on the move," Nelson said.
And for those drivers using special radar detectors to alert them to the presence of radar, Nelson said, "this new radar unit puts those radar detectors out of business."
Drivers who chose to argue with the trooper who stops him for speeding will find that the new radar unit - the most sophisticated developed to date - has a memory and can flash the violator's actual speed on a screen at the touch of a control.
The decision to employ the new radar equipment and station troopers at bars is predicated on studies that show that speed and alcohol are the two largest contributing factors in fatal and serious injury auto accidents, spokesmen said yesterday.
A state police study indicates that speed is involved in three out of every five deaths that occur on the state's highways. Additionally, the state medical examiner sampled approximately 67 per cent of the 453 persons killed last year and found that more than half of those tested had been drinking.
Although Maryland traffic deaths hit a 12-year low last year, state police said this new crackdown is designed to cut the death toll even further.
The program is funded by a one-year $180,000 Maryland Department of Transportation grant. The enforcement operation features the use of off-duty troopers who are being paid on a overtime basis along with the special team of nine troopers to selectively patrol high-accident locations throughout the state.