Cold Comfort Some Cities Banning Ice Cream Trucks as a Danger to Neighborhood Children

Article excerpt

The faces and voices of the kids mobbing the Frosty Freeze truck were the stuff of Norman Rockwell, a reminder of sticky days and sweet evenings past.

The flavors may have modern names, but the ice cream has primordial appeal.

"Oooh! A Bubble Gum!"

"I got the Tweety Bird!"

"Hi. Can I get two Bomb Pop Juniors?"

As driver Don Gibbs worked his way down the street, his siren song a tinkly "Home on the Range," the parents came out, too, dollar bills clutched in their hands. In the presence of the ice cream man, they somehow appeared as ageless as the children.

For all its resonance, the scene is rare. This spring marks the first time in 23 years that ice cream trucks have been allowed on Denver's streets. They were banned in 1971 after a car struck a child trying to buy a treat, killing her.

In cities and suburbs across America, the neighborhood ice cream vendor has been banned or silenced after accidents involving children hit by cars.

No one keeps precise track of how many children are killed this way, but in a six-year period in south Florida, starting in 1985, children were in 18 accidents related to ice cream trucks, six of them fatal.

Often the accidents result in a public and political outcry. In 1978, the U.S. Department of Transportation commissioned a study in Detroit to examine the problem. The report concluded that flashing lights and a swing-down arm warning that children were around would reduce accidents.

Many cities have taken sterner measures:

In Chicago's 19th Ward, ice cream trucks were banned after the death of an 8-year-old girl in 1989 produced a chorus of other complaints. Several other wards followed suit.

The trucks are outlawed in a dozen Chicago suburbs, as well.

Safety also has been debated in the Miami area, where bans on trucks have been imposed by several towns, including Coral Springs, which acted in 1985 after a child was killed and three were injured in a four-month period.

In 1986, officials in Carson, Calif., outlawed the trucks, calling them "a clear and present danger to children."

Long Beach, N.Y., has banned motorized ice cream trucks since 1976. More recently, the city even forbade bicycle peddlers during evening hours.

Santa Ana, Calif., prohibits vendors from playing any music. Boulder, Colo., in 1989 reduced the allowable decibels from 80 to 50.

But Alan Drazen, past president of the International Association of Ice Cream Vendors, says, "My impression is that it's a situation of a few isolated incidents. Occasionally there will be a town that will pass a restrictive regulation. …