Move along, shoulder-huggers on Interstate 190

Published: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 8:28 a.m. CDT

(MCT) — Anyone who visits O’Hare International Airport knows how vigorously traffic aides patrol the arrival and departure lanes. You can’t just park your car and wander off. You’re allotted a few seconds for hugging, kissing, crying, promising to write/call/visit, before a yellow-jacketed warden shoos you away.

That’s the way it should be, for everyone’s safety. So how to explain the accident waiting to happen just outside the airport on Interstate 190?

In a recent column, Tribune transportation writer Jon Hilkevitch noted the conga line of cars pulled off on the emergency shoulder, some with hazard lights flashing. The hazard? None. These drivers are awaiting a cellphone call from an arriving passenger. Maybe they’re too lazy to follow the signs to the free cellphone parking lot about five minutes away. Or they’re too cheap to pay the $2 for parking while they wait near terminals.

Chicago cops and Illinois State Police are “aware” of the violators but apparently aren’t doing much about them. Come again? Those shoulder-huggers aren’t risking just their own safety, but that of everyone else who approaches O’Hare. Cars pulling out from an emergency lane into the heavily trafficked stretch cause right-lane drivers to swerve into other lanes. The danger in letting motorists squat with impunity will become even clearer after a major pileup.

Chicago Department of Aviation officials said they’ve made sign changes and are adding a new sign pointing motorists to the free cellphone lot. That should be just as effective as wishing for a Chicago winter without subzero wind chills.

An Illinois State Police spokeswoman said enforcement needs to be “coordinated” between agencies. Here’s a freebie solution: Have city and state police make enforcement a priority for a week or two. Slap drivers with tickets for illegally stopping on the emergency shoulder, which, incidentally, carries a hefty $120 fine. Airport tow-truck drivers could circle around more to warn drivers via loudspeaker.

Vigorous enforcement will spread the word a lot faster than a new road sign will. Within days, more motorists will head to the cellphone lot, joining the drivers of more than 268,000 vehicles who obeyed the law and used it last year. The shoulder will be clear for emergency use, as intended.

That may add a few minutes to the time a traveler must wait before she is whisked from the airport by friends or family. But that’s no tragedy compared with the risks of allowing shoulder-huggers to defy the law.

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This editorial appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Monday, January 28.

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