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Public health tip for nursing mothers: Not while you're driving

Janna Dieckmann shuddered last week when she saw a driver breast-feeding her baby on Interstate 40.

"The baby was between the woman and the steering wheel," said Dieckmann, a public health nurse who teaches nursing students at UNC-Chapel Hill. "If there had been any kind of accident at all, that baby would be harmed."

She recalled that the woman was driving east on I-40 Thursday or Friday morning, near Southpoint in Durham. So what did the woman look like? What kind of car?

"Sorry. I was in shock. I can't tell you," Dieckmann said. ... [MORE]

Unpopular 75mph speed-limit bill revived as a pilot-progam study

After House members balked last week at approving the Senate's bill to make 75 mph the state's top speed limit, the bill was converted Tuesday to a proposal to have the state Department of Transportation study the idea, to see whether it's safe.

On a split vote -- with some legislators saying the idea was too dangerous even for a study -- the House Transportation Committee approved the new study proposal and sent it to another committee. (6/27 update: 75mph speed bill dies.)

If the full House and Senate agree, DOT will study the idea of implementing a pilot program to set the speed limit at 75 mph on four sections of interstate or other controlled-access highways.

Also to be included in the study: the need to encourage slower drivers to stay out of the left lane on multi-lane highways.

The top speed limit on state highways now is 70 mph. The Senate approved the original 75 mph proposal by Sen. Neal Hunt, a Raleigh Republican, with only brief discussion and one dissenting vote. But several House members expressed alarm in committee discussions and floor debate.

Protecting Raleigh's children

The 1960s brought dark days to the children of Raleigh when the City Council determined the operation of ice cream trucks on city streets to be too dangerous.

Although defenders of the vendors argued that banning them was discrimination against a particular type of business and that accidents had been relatively few, the council voted in favor of "an ordinance prohibiting the sale of ice cream from mobile units on Raleigh streets."

Photo courtesy of the NC State Archives

Raleigh Times writer Shirley Mudge explained that this wasn’t the first time the city had tried to pass laws for the protection of children.

Several years ago treasure hunts sponsored by a local radio station led adults as well as children into the streets and by-way searching for clues to the location of some prize.

Councilmen, concerned about the way youngsters were drawn into the streets on such hunts, passed an ordinance prohibiting the games.

Two other city ordinances were designed specifically with children in mind. One prohibits the leaving of abandoned refrigerators (with doors on them) where children might be injured. Another prohibits the sale of fire crackers.

On the subject of ice cream sales, Mayor W. G. Enloe and several city councilmen have indicated they do not favor allowing ice cream trucks in residential areas because they allegedly cause some children to dash into streets without looking.

Other councilmen have argued that prohibiting the sale is unfair to the ice cream companies since the sale of vegetables and certain other goods is permitted on city streets. -- The Raleigh Times 2/24/1962

It took some time, but the sun finally came out again for ice cream lovers, and writer Judy Bolch took a ride with a local vendor.

Once a fixture on the summer scene, the ice cream truck and its tinkling bells disappeared about 15 years ago following a two-year controversy in which city ordinances prohibiting such sales -- on the grounds they were dangerous to children-- were twice ruled invalid by the state Supreme Court. After that, according to City Atty. Tom MCCormick, the trucks were not illegal, but apparently few, if any, were operating....

A whole new generation of ice cream lovers is getting used to door-to-door delivery of their favorite treat and getting over their surprise at seeing the truck in their neighborhoods.

Riding along with Barry Harmon, a driver for Good Time Ice Cream Inc., ... is a lesson in how to make people happy.

None of the children queried on Harmon’s route had ever seen an ice cream man before ... but they knew what it was, they reported, from pictures.

Therefore, Harmon is a man pursued....

Children pedal furiously after him on their bikes and screeches of "ice cream!" emanate from inside houses.

On a typical day his truck will cover 75 to 100 miles, and he’ll dispense hundreds of the Popsicles, multi-flavored sundaes, ice cream sandwiches, frozen Heath bars, Fudgsicles, pushups and Cheerios which comprise his menu of 25 to 45-cent items.

"I love it," Harmon said about his job as he drove this big white truck around the winding streets of a West Raleigh neighborhood recently. He likes not only the joy of his customers but also the freedom which comes from going where the ice cream trail takes him.

Periodically Harmon jingled the group of four small bells (each with three clappers) which decorates his windshield. More rarely he sounded the clanging electric bell which penetrates even the cocoon of an air-conditioned home. "If I use it too much, it gives me a headache," Harmon said.

He stopped his truck, and a 90-year-old woman, escorted by a companion, hobbled to the curb. "She comes out every day," he said....

"A lot of people come up and buy one ice cream for them and one for their dogs. One man told me that if he’s not there, just to give one to the dog and he’ll pay me later," Harmon said. -- The Raleigh Times 6/17/1977

Teen drivers and parents: got driving logs?

This message goes out to all you teen drivers working your way up the ladder of North Carolina's graduated licensing program: Before you move up from a learner's permit to a provisional license, you're going to have to spend at least 60 hours of quality time behind the wheel with one of your parents riding front-seat shotgun.

This new requirement takes effect for most limited provisional licenses issued after Jan. 1, 2013 (for all limited provisional licenses issued to teens who got their learner's permits after Jan. 1, 2012). To get a provisional license, you must be at least 16 years old, you must have had a learner's permit for at least a year, and you must be able to document the 60 hours of parent-supervised driving with written logs signed by a parent.

(Update: see 1/1/2013 Road Worrier.) If you're a teen driver or a teen driver's parent, I'd like to hear your perspective. Please call me at 919-829-4527 or email me at

Wipers on? Lights on! It's the (toothless) law.

On wet days such as this one, NCDOT uses the I-40 message boards to remind drivers that North Carolina law requires us to turn on headlights whenever our windshield wipers are on. On my rainy drive to work this morning, about one of every five cars was driving with wipers on -- but headlights OFF.

So here's a reminder, again:  It's required by law.  It's explained in the DMV Driver Handbook (pdf).  Coincidentally, it's a good idea.  It helps other drivers see your car, from the front or from the rear, even in a downpour. Even through a cloud of spray from the nearest 18-wheeler.

Those automatic daytime running lights do NOT count.  They don't turn on your full-beam headlights.  They don't turn on your taillights.  So they don't meet the standard of our "wipers on - headlights on" law: ... [MORE]

Are red-light cameras good for Raleigh, and for you?

Red-light cameras caused problems for Cary on several fronts, so the town council decided this month to get rid of them.

Raleigh's red-light camera program is different from Cary's.  It survived a brush with extinction last year when some city council members wanted to get rid of it.  But somehow, these robot ticket-writers have been less controversial in Raleigh than in Cary.  How come? (8/14/12 update: see today's Road Worrier with reader comments.)

I'm writing about Raleigh's red-light cameras today.  If you've received one of these $50 tickets in the last year or two, I'd like to hear from you.  Was it fair?  Were you guilty?  Do you think these cameras make our intersections safer?  Or do you think Raleigh should unplug its red-light cameras, too? 

Please email me with your thoughts, and your name and daytime phone number.

Cyclist to paving-crew pilot car: Not so fast!

Maybe it wasn't head-strong bicyclists who started that little dust-up on Dairyland Road between the two-wheelers and a DOT paving contractor. Maybe, Orange County bike rider Ivan Bachelder says, it was the contractor's fault.

As the Road Worrier reported today (see column with reader comments), DOT is repaving the rural Orange County road, extremely popular with bike riders, and adding 24-inch paved shoulders on both sides. There were alarms when the paving contractor pilot truck found itself meeting cyclists head-on.

DOT and others said the cyclists had ignored a flagger's request to stop, and had decided to go.

But at least in some cases, Bachelder said by email, the pilot vehicle drove too fast and the cyclists fell behind. Then, when making a return trip, the pilot truck met the cyclists head-on: ... [MORE]

If lawsuit doesn't stop red-light cameras, maybe legislation will

Red-light camerasBrian Ceccarelli and his lawyers advanced a big step toward victory over Cary and its red-light camera program this week when a Wake Superior Court judge certified their lawsuit as a class action, adding thousands of drivers as candidates for refunds of their $50 red-light-running tickets (see today's story with reader comments) if Cary eventually loses the case. The class action designation may give Cary a new incentive to settle out of court.

Meanwhile this week, the House of Representatives breathed life into legislation that would outlaw red-light cameras in the only four remaining cities that use them: Raleigh, Cary, Knightdale and Wilmington. The Senate approved it in April 2011, but the House shelved it.

The bill sponsor, Republican Sen. Don East of Pilot Mountain, is a former Winston-Salem police officer who argues that drivers should be able to cross-examine the officer who gives them a traffic ticket.

“You ought to be able to say, ‘Officer, are you right sure that light was red?’” East said last year during floor debate.  His legislation would not merely bar towns from using red-light cameras -- it would make it a misdemeanor for anyone to use them.

The House revived his bill this week and sent it to the Appropriations Committee. Ceccarelli's lawyer, Republican Paul Stam of Apex, serves as the House majority leader.

East's argument could carry new weight this year, as Cary deals with a separate problem involving a camera that cranked out 31 undeserved tickets at one intersection before the malfunction was discovered.

U.S. nuclear plants make safety upgrades year after Fukushima disaster

Every U.S. nuclear plant this year will add an extra layer of emergency equipment to deal with unforeseen natural disasters, Progress Energy Chief Nuclear Officer Jim Scarola said this morning to mark the upcoming anniversary of the Fukushima disaster in Japan.

Scarola is the special liaison for the U.S. nuclear industry's Fukushima response, set up to improve U.S. nuclear plant safety after a 50-foot tsunami disabled coastal reactors in Japan and washed away diesel generators and other emergency equipment, and claimed 19,000 lives from drowning.

"One of the things we set out to do is not to take the stance that it can't happen here," Scarola said of the nation's nuclear leaders. "What we're really concerned about is being able to provide water and energy" to keep safety equipment running during a catastrophic event that causes high death rates and wipes out roads and other infrastructure. 

Feds find minor safety violation at Progress Energy nuclear plant

Nuclear safety officials dinged Raleigh-based Progress Energy for a minor safety violation at its Brunswick nuclear plant near Wilmington.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission said this morning that the plant's emergency diesel generators were not properly protected from possible flooding during a hurricane. The generators are needed as a backup source of electric power to operate pumps and other emergency equipment required to keep nuclear fuel from melting down and releasing radioactivity.

The generators were not properly protected because the Brunswick plant had not sealed off the fuel-oil tank room that stores the diesel to run the generators.

The agency said the oversight was of "low to moderate safety significance." It did not merit a fine, but the NRC will increase its oversight of the nuclear plant with an extra inspection.

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