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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Spring Safety Blitz

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, March 20, 2006

North Adams Police Director Michael Cozzaglio
The calendar has turned the page on winter - although for now, the cold and wind appears loathe to let go - and soon enough, children on bicycles, roller skates, and scooters will reign the neighborhoods.

Local police agreed to deliver a refresher course involving outdoor safety and state bicycle, helmet, and motorized scooter laws as a seasonal heads-up, and talked about the benefits of community policing during March 20 interviews.

A public child safety session and an enforcement program are scheduled to occur in North Adams within the next few weeks.

Operation "Yellow Blitz"

On March 27, city police will participate with an "Operation Yellow Blitz" enforcement program targeting vehicles that pass stopped school buses with red lights flashing and passengers entering or exiting the buses. The program is being operated in conjunction with the state Department of Motor Vehicles, said police Sgt. James Burdick. Passing a stopped school bus that displays flashing red lights is a violation of state law and offenders may face a fine of up to $200 for each offense.

Police will be patrolling school bus stops throughout the city during the "blitz," Burdick said.

Get The Facts

On April 6, city children and their parents are invited to a safety session at the Greylock apartment complex community policing building at 39 Angeli St., said police Director Michael Cozzaglio. The session is scheduled to begin at 4:15 p.m., and will include information about reducing the risks for stranger abduction and other youth issues.

The event is free.

City streets are usually well-monitored by residents and law enforcement officers, Cozzaglio said. Offering safety information adds to a constant theme of youth and public safety.

In most cases, neighbors or passers-by report to police any suspicious or unfamiliar vehicles or people who may be hanging around neighborhoods without any apparent destination or valid reason, and that adds to neighborhood safety, Cozzaglio said.

"Our neighborhood eyes are pretty good," he said.

Make A Phone Call

Increased daylight hours coupled with improving weather may mean more children traveling independently to and from friends' homes. Parents can help assure the safety of their children with one telephone call, said Adams police Chief Donald Poirot.

"If your child says that they are going to a friend's house, check to see that they arrived at the destination," he said. "If the child is walking and you know that it's about a 15 minute walk, call when you think they should be there."

The benefit of one telephone call is two-fold, he said, and noted that knowing a child has arrived safely at a destination can ease any anxiety and if the child has not arrived, action can be taken sooner rather than later.

Many situations of tardy children are not related to any criminal activities but should a child prove to be missing, the sooner police are involved, the better, Poirot said.

"It's better to know that a child is missing after 15 minutes rather than after hours have passed," he said.

Poirot stressed that children engaged in outdoor activities such as roller-skating or bicycle riding should wear safety gear such as elbow pads and knee pads.

"Make sure the kids are appropriately attired," he said.

Bikes And Helmets

Bicycle helmets are required by state law for all children under 13 years old when they are riding bicycles on public property, such as streets. Helmets should fit properly and be fastened when in use; helmets should be replaced if damaged or after five years.

Appropriate helmets should bear a certification sticker on the inside that reads ANSI Z90, ASTM, or Snell Memorial Foundation, according to information provided by the North Adams police department. Helmets with nylon chin straps, a strong buckle mechanism and ventilation are the preferred type of headgear.

When selecting a helmet, fit is very important. Chin straps and foam inserts may be adjusted to improve the fit of a helmet; if the adjustments do not provide a good fit, seek another size or helmet design. A helmet that is fitted and fastened correctly should sit low on the forehead just above the eyebrows, according to information included on an illustrated state Governor's Highway Safety Bureau brochure.

Police departments and community agencies often offer bicycle helmet give-aways during the spring and summer season, for information about any upcoming helmet programs, contact the police department of the town of residence.

When riding a bicycle, ride on the right side of the street. Multiple riders should ride single file. Both hands should grip the handlebars. Any packages or other items should be carried in a bicycle basket or in a backpack.

Bicycles should be equipped with a white light on the front and a red light at the bicycle rear, and a full set of reflectors attached to the spokes and other areas. If, when straddling a bicycle, a child's feet do not touch the ground, the bicycle is too tall for the child. A smaller bicycle should be used.

Anyone riding a bicycle should remain alert and aware of potential dangers, such as potholes, loose sand, sewer drains, parked vehicle doors opening suddenly and vehicles coming from driveways and side streets.

Mini-Scooters Are Governed By Law

Motorized scooters are governed by state law. The scooters are defined as "any two-wheeled tandem or three-wheeled device that meets all of the following: has handlebars, is designed to be stood or sat upon by the operator, is powered by an electric or gas powered motor that is capable of propelling the device with or without human propulsion, is equipped with operational 'stop' and 'turn' signals and complies with all applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards."

The definition excludes wheelchairs, motorcycles, mopeds, and three-wheeled motorized wheelchairs.

Any motorized scooter driver must be at least 16 years old and possess a valid state driver's license or learner's permit. A speed limit of 20 miles per hour is imposed on the scooters, also known as "pocket rockets." Scooters must stay to the right side of the roadway at all times.

Anyone driving a motorized scooter must signal when stopping or turning the scooter. Scooters may not be driven on public ways before sunrise or after sunset. The scooter may carry a driver only, no passengers are allowed on the small vehicles. Drivers must wear approved helmets.

There are no registration requirements, however, the machines are considered "motor vehicles" and drivers can be cited for violations of traffic and scooter laws.

Child Safety Seats

Pleasant weather may bring an increase in family vehicle trips. Police offered a reminder about the state's child passenger safety laws.

In Massachusetts, infants and children under age five and who weigh less than 40 pounds must ride in a federally-approved infant or toddler safety seat. Children who weigh over 40 pounds but are less than five years old must ride in a booster seat.

Adams police Officer Timothy Carpenter is a certified restraint seat installation officer. The safety seats are effective in preventing injury when they are properly installed inside a vehicle; Carpenter will install a safety seat for any resident of the Northern Berkshires. An appointment is necessary and may be arranged by calling 413-743-1212. Poirot noted that there may be a wait time for an appointment because of demand and Carpenter's additional duties as a town police officer.

Children age five or over and weighing over 40 pounds must wear a seatbelt that has been properly fitted. Federally-approved booster seats are recommended for children age five or older who weigh between 40 and 60 pounds. Children who are relying solely on a seat belt should not be secured with a shoulder belt. A lap belt should be used.

Parents of children required by law to use a safety seat or a booster seat are responsible to provide a seat when a taxi is transporting the child.

School buses are exempt from the child passenger safety law.

Children who are physically unable to use conventional safety seats or seats designed for to accommodate special needs are exempt but the situation must be documented in writing by a physician.

Police may stop a vehicle if an officer observes unrestrained children in the vehicle. Violations of child passenger safety laws are punishable by a $25 fine per unrestrained child.

Child safety is a constant theme of school resource officers, said Cozzaglio and Poirot. In North Adams, Officer France Maruco is the school resource officer, Officer Gene Gavazzi serves as the Adams schools school resource officer and Officer Tania Hernandez is the school resource officer in Williamstown.

"We are a small community and we never got away from community policing," said Poirot, and added that in addition to a school resource officer, police reach out to youth through a Police Athletic Association program, and have established a unique resident identification program. Officer Keith McLear acts as a liaison to the town's Council On Aging as well.

"It's constant contact with the community," said Poirot. "We have an officer assigned with the Council On Aging, and we have a special program for people who have special concerns."

A Unique Identification Program

The identification program is open to any town resident who is willing to wear a bracelet which bears an identification code and the police department name and telephone number. If anyone wearing the bracelet becomes incapacitated in some way, or is affected by autism, Alzheimer's Disease. or another condition and becomes lost or disoriented, the bracelet can provide for identification, no matter where the person is found.

"If you are in alone on a street in Paris, France, and you become unconscious, as long as someone calls the number on the bracelet, we can tell them who you are," Poirot said.

The program may be beneficial for people with health concerns or who may be alone much of the time. For example, a person who enjoys walking in solitude along the Ashuwillticook Trail and has a health condition that may render them unconscious may be interested in participating in the program, Poirot said. People may have their own personal reasons for wanting to take advantage of the program, which includes a file with a photograph and pertinent information about each participant.

There are presently about 70 people involved in the identification program, Poirot said.

"People do not have to be elderly to be involved in this," he said. "Anyone with a concern about being alone or having something happen can participate in this."

Information about the bracelet program or other Adams safety issues may be acquired by calling 413-743-1212.

North Adams residents may acquire additional information about safety by calling 413-664-4945.

Residents of other Berkshire region communitites may contact their local law enforcement agencies for information about any programs that may be upcoming or information about safety issues.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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