Ron Melancon complained to a lot of people about the ticket he got for rear-ending an empty, steel-mesh trailer in May 2003.
The trailer was so low-slung and the mesh back of the empty trailer so transparent that he looked right through it and saw only the truck towing it, he told them.
Nobody wanted to hear him, Melancon said. "You hit him in the rear. Pay your fine and move on" was the message he consistently received.
Melancon took an online safe-driving course to avoid a conviction for causing an accident by following too closely.
But he didn't just move on.
Instead, he went to his representative in the General Assembly, Del. John S. Reid, R-Henrico, "who gave me an opportunity to vent," Melancon said.
Reid also agreed to sponsor a bill that would make the trailers, which are often used to haul landscape equipment, more visible.
"We decided that the way to do it was to outline the rear of the vehicle of the trailer with reflective tape or reflectors, so there'd be no depth perception problems," Reid said.
'Hopefully, this will help'
"Some of those vehicles [extend] as much as 2 feet from the little fender over the rear wheel, where in most cases there's a reflector mounted, and the end of the trailer itself.
"So someone who's fixated on the reflector and maybe has a depth perception problem or not really looking can be in the back of one of those things without realizing it," he said. "Hopefully, this will help."
The bill passed the General Assembly without a dissenting vote and awaits the signature of Gov. Mark R. Warner. It would take effect July 1. New trailers sold after then must have the reflectors, but the law does not provide a penalty for not having one on an older trailer.
The law requires two reflectors or 100 square inches of reflectorized tape on the rear of every trailer that weighs less than 3,000 pounds.
Sen. John C. Watkins, R-Powhatan, lent his support to the proposal and helped defeat a suggestion that would have required as much as two years for a study of its impact, Melancon said.
Used insurance payment
Melancon didn't just make the suggestion to Reid and depend on him to carry the bill. Instead, he used the $2,400 his insurance company paid him for repairs to his minivan to buy 19 ink-jet cartridges and print 5,000 pages promoting the bill.
Melancon, manager of the men's department at Hecht's Regency Square store, also led the successful effort to get a specialty license plate for Mothers Against Drunk Drivers.
Carter Hill, the organization's state chairman, said the group had considered such a plate for years, but winning approval for one "takes a lot of time and energy" and the group had so many other projects that it never made the plate a priority.
Melancon certainly doesn't lack for energy, Hill said. "He's very thorough; he's very tenacious. . . . We're glad we've got him."
The plate has the MADD acronym on it with the "no" symbol over a car key and a martini glass.
"Once we get those plates out, maybe it will remind people not to drink and drive, just by seeing that plate," Hill said.
The MADD plate was the second effort by Melancon to win approval for a specialty plate. He and Christopher Mingus, a Boy Scout from Virginia Beach, combined their ideas in 2002 for a "United We Stand" plate remembering Sept. 11.
Melancon has a "United We Stand" plate on his minivan. It was crumpled in the collision with the trailer.
Credit: Times-Dispatch Staff Writer