One day late last month, as Brian Beavers sat in his pickup truck in the southbound lane of Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring waiting to turn left onto East-West Highway, he let five waiting motorists in the northbound lane on Georgia make their left turns first. A block down East-West Highway, a Montgomery County police officer on a motorcyle pulled Beavers over.
The officer asked the wary Beavers for his driver's license and then handed the unsuspecting motorist a citation for safe and courteous driving, plus two free tickets to a hockey game at the Capital Centre. Beavers became one of more than 100 area drivers to benefit from the month-old Montgomery County police Safe Driver Recognition Program.
Beavers, 26, a carpet store manager who lives in Ellicott City, Md., was almost afraid to believe his good fortune.
"I thought it was a big joke," Beavers said. "I'm used to getting speeding tickets."
Like some other innovative and offbeat ideas, the safe driver program started in California and was featured on a television show last fall. The show caught the attention of Walter Smith, a claims manager at Government Employees Insurance Co. It seemed a novel public service project for the company, Smith said, adding it is a way of not "beating drivers over the head but patting them on the back for safe driving."
Smith said the idea was turned down by several local police departments but won enthusiastic support from Montgomery Police Chief Bernard D. Crooke. Geico agreed to pay for printing the citations and solicited businesses to donate rewards.
The Capital Centre, the National Symphony Orchestra and several movie theaters have donated free tickets. Certificates for free goodies have been offered by several companies, including Shakey's, Armand's Chicago Pizzeria, Safeway, Giant, Roy Rogers and Bloomingdale's, according to a Geico spokesman.
Under the program, the county's 29 traffic officers are authorized to award the citations to those they deem safe and courteous drivers. Thus far, about 100 citations have been issued, said Sgt. Tom Brightwell, who oversees the project, which is expected to last one year.
Much to research scientist Brian Safer's pleasure and surprise, roadway courtesy won him tickets to a Capital Centre basketball game on the first day of the police program.
Safer had stopped his car at a light in the right-hand lane of Rockville Pike at Congressional Plaza, when a woman motorist in the middle lane waved to him to indicate she wanted to turn in front of him into the shopping center. Safer let the woman make her turn, and moments later, Officer Alfred Lamberger pulled him over.
Even when Lamberger told him he was getting a citation for letting the woman make her turn, Safer said he wasn't sure he understood until the officer explained the program and handed him the tickets.
A basketball fan, the Silver Spring resident was quite pleased with the outcome of the unusual traffic stop, but he said he wonders about a possible side effect of the program. "How many people would survive the initial shock" of being stopped by police, he mused.
Lamberger, who patrols the Rockville area, is amused by driver reactions. Lamberger said Safer's wife was following her husband in another car and she pulled off the road, looking very puzzled. Lamberger recalled asking Safer to tell his wife what was going on "so she'd stop throwing daggers at me with her eyes," he chuckled.
Lamberger calls the program a nice idea but said he doesn't find a safe driver every day. "You don't tend to look for them," he said, shortly after watching a small car screech through a precarious left turn.
He said he would prefer better guidelines for the reward tickets, noting that merely stopping at red lights as the law requires is not enough.