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Safe Driving Earns Motorists a Free Trip to the Movies

November 29, 1990|JOSH MEYER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

This is the city, Los Angeles, California. The time: 1300 hours, Monday.

Officers Lovold and Harper observe a suspect vehicle, a gray Toyota Corolla, making its way through traffic, a silver-haired motorist at the wheel.

She makes the move they're waiting for. The officers respond, sirens wailing and lights flashing, and pull her over. They get out of the black-and-white and approach the suspect.

She's startled. Claims she hasn't done anything. But she was caught in the act. They cite her.

Name: Anita Rapoport, 82 years old. Her offense, spelled out on her official police citation: "Conspicuously safe and courteous driving."

Her sentence: 90 minutes, give or take a few, in a darkened chamber of her choice. Popcorn and soda not included.

Popcorn and soda? Yes, indeed. Rapoport is about to take a friend along on a free trip to the movies, courtesy of the Los Angeles Police Department.

Rapoport, a West Los Angeles resident with a special driving visor and a clean traffic record, became one of the first lucky motorists to get pulled over by LAPD traffic Officers Chuck Lovold and Rick Harper under a novel "good-driver" initiative.

The program, which started late last week and is limited to the Westside, is mostly designed to make the public aware of the need for courteous and safe driving, particularly in the busy holiday season.

Lovold and Harper will be patrolling the Westside from now until New Year's Day. They will be looking for motorists who set an example that others should follow, and who show the kind of courtesy and caution that help prevent serious traffic accidents, particularly those involving pedestrians.

"We're looking for people who take their time and yield to other people," said Lovold.

Added Harper: "The closer you get to Christmas, tempers flare and people get crazy. So you look for courtesy and calmness."

"We're so used to looking for something wrong," Lovold chuckled, "it's weird looking for something right."

It was as the officers spoke that Rapoport and her Corolla came into view, headed west on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles. She carefully applied her brakes, allowing several pedestrians to cross the street, even though several other vehicles whizzed by.

After congratulating Rapoport on her good deed, the officers gave her an official-looking special citation and a few words of encouragement.

Although she had wrung her hands in bewilderment and concern when the officers first approached, Rapoport quickly regained her composure.

"I wasn't aware I had done anything," Rapoport told the police officers and a reporter who tagged along with them. "I try to be a good driver."

As a matter of fact, Rapoport said, her driving record is exemplary, and it's been years since she was ticketed by the police. "I haven't had one in a long, long time," she said. "I can't remember the last one."

A short while later, Armen Nahapetian got the same treatment from Lovold and Harper. His good deed: yielding the right of way to another car in heavy traffic.

Asked if he was surprised to be pulled over for his courteous driving, Nahapetian said: "Yes. And relieved."

As with other drivers who were pulled over, the Canoga Park engineer said he was startled by the presence of a squad car behind him with its lights and siren on. "I thought, 'Uh oh, what did I do wrong?' " he said.

Lovold said the ticketing program is designed to address one of the department's most pressing concerns: pedestrian injuries and deaths caused by careless motorists.

Citywide, pedestrian deaths are up 19% this year, the officers said. "We've lost 28 (pedestrians) so far this year" on the Westside, said Lovold. "The majority of them were seniors."

Many pedestrians don't take the time to look both ways at intersections, and they jaywalk in places where it is dangerous, he said. And drivers often aren't looking, don't stop when they should, or cannot see pedestrians until it is too late.

Koreatown is by far the worst place on the Westside for pedestrian-related traffic accidents, and Westwood is the second worst, the two officers said.

Each citation is good for two tickets at any Warner Brothers movie at any Southern California Mann Theatre. Those two companies agreed to participate in the program. The citations are good through New Year's Day.

The officers said they will not give out the citations during rush hour to avoid tying up traffic and making good drivers late for work or appointments. And, unlike the case with most traffic tickets, acceptance is purely voluntary.

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