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Troopers issue record number of tickets;
Gas crunch slows down drivers, but not enough;
Citations up 80% over holidayJennifer Skalka, SUN STAFF

Out in force during the Labor Day holiday, state police said yesterday that troopers issued a record number of traffic tickets during the weekend -- even as some motorists said they kept a light foot on the gas pedal to conserve precious fuel.

Traffic stops were up 80 percent over last year, as about 1,400 Maryland troopers issued more than 20,000 tickets, warnings and repair orders the department said.

Still, Sgt. Rob Moroney, a state police spokesman who was on the road often during the weekend, said he thought drivers were generally more cautious than in the past.

"For the most part, people were driving fairly conservatively," Moroney said.

As gas prices reach record highs, motorists say that safety isn't the driving force behind their slower speeds.

With AAA and other groups advising drivers to slow down to conserve fuel -- noting that the faster a vehicle travels, the more gas it burns -- many are paying heed.

A random survey of those filling their tanks at gas stations on West Street in Annapolis found most drivers saying they are watching their speedometers.

Becky Wounkin, a sales representative for a greeting card company, said she is feeling the pinch from higher prices at the pump.

Wounkin, who filled her green Mazda minivan at an Exxon station yesterday, is on the road all day making sales calls, and now, she said, she's not driving faster than 55 mph.

"My mechanic husband told me to," said Wounkin, a Marriottsville resident. "He said 55 [mph] saves you money."

Lynne Dehenzel, an Annapolis dental hygienist, agreed.

"I've told my kids, `Go a little slower when you are out on the roads,'" she said.

But Dehenzel is also taking other measures to save money. She tries to consolidate her errands so she doesn't make extra trips. And when she gets home at night after work, she stays home.

"It's affecting our monthly budget," she said of gas prices.

Even those people who use company cars are changing their driving behavior. Paul Bankard, a construction foreman whose employer pays his vehicle expenses, said he doesn't let his truck idle anymore. Especially not with the air conditioning running, he noted.

Bankard, who lives in Hampstead, said he's not necessarily monitoring his driving speed. "I'm not driving slower," he said. "I'm a little more conscious of how much I'm driving."

Kathryn Cate, an Annapolis bartender who commutes to Kent Island for work, said she has knocked about 10 mph off her regular driving speed. "I'm trying to drive more slowly," she said, before noting that she wants to trade in the Jeep she's had since last September. A sedan, she said, would be more economical.

Mike Klakring of Centreville owns a car dealership and said he can afford to drive his car. But he, too, is driving the speed limit, he said. "I try to get the mileage."

Klakring also mentioned that he has noticed a shift in the types of cars his customers are buying. Lately, the economy models are selling big, he said.

Still, not everyone is changing driving habits or slowing down. Karen Pedersen of Annapolis said that as summer fades to fall, she is especially determined to enjoy her green Volkswagen convertible.

"The wind doesn't blow as much through your hair if you slow down," she said.
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