In Va., man's passion is traffic activism
On the morning of Aug. 23, Ron Melancon sat in his Ford Taurus at Three Chopt Road and Forest Avenue in Richmond, and noticed the driver of a GRTC van using what appeared to be a cellphone.
He immediately took out his camera and got photos of the operator. The photos led GRTC to discipline the van driver.
Melancon, a Henrico County resident, pays close attention to these kinds of road-safety matters. He carries a camera at all times, and when he sees something he thinks is against the law, he captures it and sends photos to authorities.
But he's not just telling on others; his mission is to get others to pay attention too.
He spends numerous hours -- and has spent thousands of dollars -- calling media outlets, lobbying state and federal legislators, sending e-mails and maintaining several websites on issues he cares about.
He has always been an involved citizen, but took a more active role after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks when he discovered that Virginia did not have a license plate with the American flag on it and started a petition to get one. He designed the flag and got the Virginia legislature to pass a bill for the "United We Stand" license plate.
Last year he created the website dangerousspringfieldroad.org, where he keeps information about wrecks on that western Henrico road. He also put together penniesforplaygrounds.org to encourage donations for damaged or destroyed school playgrounds.
But for the past seven years, his main fight has been trailer safety.
He said it all began after he hit the rear of a trailer with his vehicle in 2003.
"I was paying attention," said Melancon who lives with his wife, Dawn, and children, Zachary, 11, and Megan, 6. It was dark and the trailer had no lights, he said.
That led him to research trailer wrecks and fatalities.
In 2004, he successfully lobbied the General Assembly to require trailers of less than 3,000 pounds to have two or more reflectors or 100 or more square inches of solid reflective material in the rear.
He wants the federal government to set national standards, which currently vary by state.
George DeCola, who has known Melancon for almost six years, calls him committed to that cause.
"Not many people would do what he has done, including myself," he said. "He has spent his own time, money and hard work to fight for something you think would be common sense. Ron is trying to hold people accountable for their actions."
In a letter Melancon wrote to Sen. Jim Webb, one of many politicians he has lobbied for trailer-safety legislation, he wrote: "You have no heart when you know that over 400 lives are lost each year by Passenger Cars That Tow Trailers and you do nothing."
That is just how Melancon is -- straight to the point.
"He comes across as very strong, but I think it's just the passion that he has about the issue," said Henrico County Police Chief H.W. Stanley Jr., who often receives correspondence and calls from Melancon.
Melancon's persistence has led the police department to take a more active role to educate the community on trailer safety, Stanley said.
But educating is not enough for Melancon, who insists on enforcement.
"He is passionate," Stanley said. "He is like other citizens, he wants action taken."
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