Darryl and Judy Knight, parents of Stephanie M. Knight, 16, of Palm Harbor who was struck and killed on U.S. 19 in November 2005, listen to speakers during the Dec. 27 press conference at the location where their daughter died. Behind them is Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Don Skelton.
PINELLAS COUNTY – Motorists traveling U.S. 19 this month should be aware that area law enforcement will be out in force looking for unsafe drivers.
According to Sgt. Glenn J. Luben of the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office, motorists can expect to see up to 10 additional patrol cars two to three times a week, stopping motorists for violations that include speeding, aggressive driving and red light running.
The increased law enforcement activities are part of a campaign by the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization’s U.S. 19 Pedestrian Safety Committee and the Pinellas Police Standards Council to draw attention to pedestrian safety, education and enforcement throughout January.
Statistics from the Pinellas County Metropolitan Planning Organization show that 12 pedestrians died and 52 pedestrians were injured at various points along U.S. 19 from 2004 to 2005.
Officials gathered for a press conference on Dec. 27 at the intersection of U.S. 19 and County Road 95, just north of Curlew Road, near the site where Stephanie Knight, 16, was killed while attempting to cross U.S. 19 to reach a bus stop on Nov. 25, 2005.
Stephanie’s parents, Darryl and Judy Knight, attended the Dec. 27 gathering. A state-approved “Drive Safely” memorial in Stephanie’s memory was also unveiled at the event.
According to a press release from the county Communication’s Department, during a month-long campaign, police also will enforce the Move Over Act.
Motorists rarely follow the “move over” law as evidenced three times in the last three months, when deputies were hit while on traffic stops, Luben said.
The Move Over Act requires motorists, on a highway with two or more lanes, to move over to the next lane when law enforcement or other authorized emergency vehicle is parked on a roadway with emergency lights activated.
On a two-lane roadway, motorists are required to slow to a speed that is 20 mph less than the speed limit, or 5 mph if the speed limit is 20 mph or less. Violators can pay a $60 fine and receive three points.
The goal of the countywide enforcement is voluntary compliance from motorists to drive safely without getting a ticket, according to county communications.
Several local law enforcement agencies are involved in the pedestrian safety campaign, including Pinellas County Sheriffs Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, and the Tarpon Springs, Clearwater, Largo, Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg police departments. All these agencies are responsible for patrolling sections of U.S. 19 as part of their daily routine.
U.S. 19 has a history of safety concerns. In 1998, the intersection of Sunset Boulevard and U.S. 19 attracted national attention when State Farm Insurance listed it as the most dangerous in the state. The intersection of Drew Street and U.S. 19 was listed as No. 10.
No intersection in Pinellas County made the State Farm list in 2005, pointing to significant improvements from recent road construction projects.
"For many years, U.S. 19 was viewed as a very unsafe road. People would joke and say, "Pray for me, I drive on U.S. 19," said Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel in a statement on myus19.com, a Web site started in 2003 to provide information on U.S. 19 construction projects.
Seel chaired the U.S. 19 Task Force formed in 2000 to find solutions to improve the safety for motorists and pedestrians.
The task force came up with a list of 60 ways to improve the roadway, including changes in the medians to channel traffic, improved traffic signals, more signs and sidewalks.
Among the suggestions, implemented thus far are new sidewalks, replacement of five signals and a series of overpasses. Two overpasses are currently under construction, one at 110th Avenue and the other at 118th and Bryan Dairy Road, and another is planned for the section between Gulf-to-Bay and Whitney Road.