UPD issues 29 warnings to skateboarders


Published: Friday, January 30, 2009 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 29, 2009 at 11:12 p.m.

The University of Florida Police traffic unit issued 29 warnings to skateboarders Wednesday during a special traffic detail.

Lt. Stacy Ettel said officers wrote warnings because the campus-wide detail was intended to be educational. No skateboarders were ticketed, according to a UPD press release.

Tuesday night, the student Senate passed a resolution calling on campus police to issue warnings to first offenders instead of tickets. Capt. Jeff Holcomb told the student representatives that was already UPD's philosophy.

Shortly before 2 p.m., Ettel stopped Romain Benjamin, who was riding a skateboard in the bike lane along Stadium Drive on his way to class.

Benjamin said he didn't know Florida law bars roller skates, skateboards and similar devices from roads and bike lanes.

Ettel wrote him a warning, gave him a safety brochure and sent him on his way, reminding him that next time he could be fined $52.50.

"I thought the bike lane was there to keep us out of the way of cars," Benjamin said. "It's more dangerous on the sidewalk, in my opinion."

Ettel said he would like to set aside an hour during First Year Florida, an optional course designed to acquaint UF freshmen with campus and the surrounding community, so his department could explain traffic rules for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Traffic safety laws are more important in Gainesville than in many UF students' hometowns, Ettel said, because cyclists and skateboarders are far more prevalent here.

Ettel said that, not long after the detail was announced, an officer in his unit was driving home from work when a skateboarder hitched an uphill ride by grabbing the tailgate of the officer's truck. Only then did the skateboarder realize the driver was wearing a police uniform.

That episode made for some jokes among officers, he said, but it also helped motivate them to raise awareness about skateboard safety.

Grabbing a passing truck might make an uphill climb easier, but it can endanger drivers and skateboarders alike, Ettel said.

In all, officers on Wednesday wrote 42 warnings and six tickets for bicycle violations, including riding while wearing headphones, running stop signs and riding at night without lights. They also registered 11 bicycles and issued 15 warnings and 10 tickets to motorists, according to the press release.

The saturation details will continue throughout the spring semester. Next Wednesday's detail will focus on scooter operators younger than 21 who ride without helmets.

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