November 1, 2014

Missouri DOT looking for potentially deadly guardrails (AUDIO)

The state Transportation Department has started looking at all of its guardrails to see if the ends have a manufacturing flaw that can turn them into spears.

A section of Guardrail (file)

A section of Guardrail (file)

The department says it has seen enough incidents in Missouri and in other states to make it suspend buying guardrail end caps from one of its suppliers. MODOT’s Engineering Policy Administrator Joe Jones says the department has developed a database with GPS locations of tens of thousands of guardrail ends in the state.  Department workers started checking those locations this week.

Jones says most guardrails are for motorists who would rather hit them than something else on the road. “The end of the guard rail itself has to be treated.  If we didn’t treat that and you ran into it with your car,  it would have a very good chance of spearing right through the car,” he says.

The ends are supposed to absorb impact and the rail is supposed to bend and spread.  But some lawsuits say guardrail ends made by a Texas company has a design flaw that doesn’t let the rail absorb the impact. At least one fatality has been attributed to that design.

Jones says the first step in dealing with the issue is to check every guardrail end in the state and identify the ones from Trinity Industries, a company the department has used for almost twenty years. Jones says the problem segments appear to have been made in 2005.

AUDIO: Jones interview 8:28

ACLU troubled by St. Louis plan for citywide surveillance

The St. Louis Police Department’s proposal to set up an extensive city-wide surveillance system has been called “disturbing” by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Surveillance cameras (courtesy; Wikipedia commons)

Surveillance cameras (courtesy; Wikipedia commons)

The ACLU’s 36-page study of a plan to link government surveillance cameras with private business cameras with no limits on how long information is kept is called “troubling.” Missouri Executive Director Jeffrey Mittman says similar scenarios are likely happening in other cities.

What would set St. Louis apart is the possible formation of a Real Time Intelligence Center. Mittman says different constitutional questions are involved. “If the intention…is to increase the storage capability so that data can be kept for longer periods of time, that’s a yellow, orange, and in some cases red flag,” he says. “If an intention..is to include private business camera which do not have the same protections that governmental cameras have…again, very large red flag.”

Mittman says having a camera or two on intersection poles is different from having a network of cameras throughout a city that can monitor citizens 24 hours a day. He praises the city for contacting the ACLU and for trying to put some policies in place.  But he says the situation might require state legislation.

AUDIO: Mittman interview 18:03

Schweich to test for fat budgets and speeders (AUDIO)

Don’t say state auditor Tom Schweich is going to audit ten Missouri speed traps.   He’s going to make sure ten municipal courts are follow a state law that limits the use of speeding tickets to pay city bills.

The notorious Lake Ozark-area speed trap of Mack’s Creek so incensed state lawmakers that they passed a law almost twenty years ago limiting the percent of a community’s budget that could be financed with traffic tickets. The law has been tightened since then and an even lower limit has been set.

Schweich is sending staff members to check the records of ten municipal courts to see if they’re ignoring the law.   He says one person who contacted him told of being stopped in a town where the speed limit sign was obscured suggested the sign be put in a more visible position. The complaining motorist told Schweich the officer responded, “If we did that, I’d be out of a job.”

The list is based on hotline complaints and studies that indicate a per-capita ticket rate greater that a community’s population might warrant. Most of the communities are small ones where Schweich says the pressure might be greatest to raise money to finance basic community service. The courts to be audited are: Mosby, Leadington, Linn Creek, Foristell, Winfield, Foley, Ferguson, St. Ann, Bella Vista, and Pine Lawn.

If more than thirty percent of a city’s budget comes from traffic violations, the city must refund the overage to the state. If it doesn’t, the state can end the municipal court’s authority to handle those tickets.  Schweich calls that a strong incentive to follow the law.

AUDIO: (Schweich interview 8:46

Sharing Missouri’s roads with deer (AUDIO)

Deer hunters already are in the woods and the corn is coming out of the fields.  The Highway Patrol says that means motorists need to step up their vigilance.

We’re already more than two weeks into the first deer hunting season.  Bow hunters have taken the first deer of the fall.  Missouri also is about one-third of the way through the corn harvest season, which takes away food and hiding places for deer, all of which means the herd is starting to move around and some of the deer will end up on roads and streets.

Highway Patrol spokesman John Hotz says many motorist injuries happen when drivers over-react to seeing a deer.   Hard as it might be to do, it’s better just to hit the animal.

“We do see people that try to jerk one way or another, one side or another, leaving the roadway, overturning [or] striking another vehicle,” he says.  In 99.9% of the incidents in which a deer is hit, he says, the vehicle is damaged but the driver is unhurt.   Hotz also suggests motorists don’t jam on the brakes.  He says that causes the car’s nose to dive, increasing chances the deer will roll up on the hood.

The Patrol says deer and vehicles tried to occupy the same space almost 3,500 times last year.  No drivers were killed.  About 300 motorists were hurt, often because they crashed while trying to avoid hitting the deer.

AUDIO: Hotz interview 6:41

Study: ending gay marriage ban would be economic boost (AUDIO)

A study done at the UCLA law school says Missouri could get an economic boost if it lets some people get married.

UCLA’s Williams Institute figures legalizing same sex marriage in Missouri would add more than $36-million to the state’s economy in the next three years.  And 311-934 new jobs would be created.

The Institute’s Chief Counsel, Christy Malloy, says the figures are based on anticipated expenditures if  half of Missouri’s 10,557 same-sex couples get married.  Some couples already have gone to Iowa, where the marriages are recognized. But “a lot of people prefer to stay in their own state,” she says…

She also says Missouri could become a marriage magnet for same sex couples from the other six neighboring states where same sex marriage is not legal.

Seventy percent of Missouri voters approved a constitutional ban on same sex marriage ten years ago this year.  But two lawsuits challenging the ban have been filed in Kansas City and a third lawsuit in St. Louis also could produce a court ruling.  In addition, the U-S Supreme Court might rule  next year.

The Executive Director of the LGBT advocacy organization PROMO, A. J. Bockelman, has said in an email to supporters that, “It is entirely possible–indeed it’s quite probable–that within the next year, we could see both nondiscrimination and marriage won on behalf of the LGBT community in Missouri.”

The issue also is expected to be before the United States Supreme Court soon through a case from Utah..

AUDIO: Malloy interview 11:13