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Detroit Free Press Matt Helms Column: Drivers Line Up to Collect Reward for Safety in Warren

Jun 13, 2007

By Matt Helms, Detroit Free Press

Jun. 14--The intersection of 13 Mile and Mound roads was a madhouse this morning with drivers lined up for miles to get free gas at the Fast Track station as part of an insurance company's promotion to cities with improved rankings of safe drivers.

Allstate said its 2005-2007 study of insurance claims made by its customers found that Flint and Warren drivers ranked third and fourth in the nation in years between accidents at 13.4 and 13.3 respectively -- behind Sioux Falls, S.D., and Ft. Collins, Colo.

Five Michigan cities landed the top five spots in the insurer's most-improved category -- Flint, Warren, Grand Rapids, Detroit and Sterling Heights. Residents in these cities increased the length of time between crashes by two or three years, Allstate said.

None of that seemed to matter to folks nearly as much as the prospect of 10 free gallons of gas, given out to anyone willing to wait in a line that stretched for at least two miles on eastbound 13 Mile starting around 5 a.m.

Police stopped allowing cars to enter the line before 9 a.m., and the last cars went through the station just after 10 a.m. By the end, Allstate said it had pumped 6,575 gallons of gas to about 850 vehicles.

Folks waited for hours but said it was worth it.

"I got 10 gallons of gas -- that was some good savings for me," said Felicia Hatchett, 36, a private duty nurse from Detroit who drove from the New Center area for the fill-up that would have cost around $30 at other stations.

"I'm a single mother, so it's worth it to get a free tank of gas," said Ria Daugherty, 25, of Madison Heights, a stock clerk for Kmart.

City officials said some drivers tried to line up as early as 1 a.m. but were turned away.

Traffic on Mound and 13 Mile was stop and go all morning. Warren police patrolled intersections and set up blockades to keep drivers in line.

Several vehicles ran out of gas or overheated.

Warren Police Chief Jere Green said there was only one minor fender-bender reported in the area near the gas station and no reports of altercations beyond anger over people who tried to cut in line. Police ejected some who did take cuts.

Green credited Warren's ranking and improvement to road upgrades including dedicated left-turn lanes with green arrows and right-turn lanes that help make intersections safer. He also credited the police department's 14-member patrol support division with strong traffic enforcement.

Tom Clarkson, a field vice president for Allstate, said the company's share of the auto insurance market is about 12% nationally and nearly 9% in Michigan. The insurer said its study is statistically significant enough to be an accurate reflection of national and local crash data.

Contact MATT HELMS at driving@freepress.com.

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