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Fatal crashes happen here, too

September 8, 2012
By DAVE WERNER ( , Franklin County Traffic Safety Board

We in northern Franklin County have been hit hard by several traffic crashes in less than one week, resulting in five fatalities. And we are all aware of the tragic crash in Jefferson County that killed six. With an average of only five or six fatalities per year in all of Franklin County, this recent rash of tragedies has been hard to accept. "Why," we all ask, "are these things happening?"

There is no one answer to this question. Traffic crashes happen much too frequently, not just locally, but throughout the country. Past Safety on the Roads articles have discussed reasons for crashes, such as failure to obey traffic control devices, drunk driving, distracted driving, inability to judge speed and distance, and many more. As to the reasons for the most recent fatalities, it would be inappropriate for me to directly address the causative factors inasmuch as those incidents remain under investigation by the New York State Police.

So what is different this year that we have so many more fatalities? Is there some reason, or are we just unlucky this year? Traffic fatalities in 2011 were at an all-time low of slightly over 32,000 nationally, where they had been running at a rate of upper 30,000s to lower 40,000s. A contact I have from the Federal Highway Administration told me that fatalities nationwide are up more than 20 percent so far this year. So was 2011 just a lucky year and we will be back to around 40,000 deaths again this year? I don't have these answers, nor does anyone else.

What I do know, and so do all of you, is that poor driving is as commonplace as the day turning into night. For whatever reason (and you can fill in your reasons) drivers are making driving errors constantly, are trying to multi-task far too much and are allowing distracted driving to creep into their driving habits at an alarming rate. We collectively speed, run red lights, roll through stop signs, fail to use our turn signals, back up when we really don't know what is behind us, pass on double solid lines, ignore pedestrians, and on and on it goes.

Every day we see bicyclists riding and pedestrians walking on the wrong side of the road, and ATVs riding along highways in violation of vehicle and traffic laws, causing a definite hazard to motorists and a danger to the persons who do so. Today's public highways have the potential to be extremely dangerous environments when drivers and pedestrians fail to follow the law in every instance.

What is most disturbing is that we accept this behavior and, along with it, the consequences of crashes, injuries and fatalities as the way it is.

Most drivers have the preconceived notion that they are better drivers than others and that crashes and fatalities happen to someone else. We fail to accept that one mistake can be fatal, not only to ourselves but to others. And my greatest pet peeve is that all these things are considered accidents, which they are not. They are crashes. Accidents can't be prevented - crashes can.

So here's a solution, one we all can do but few will. We can start to realize that driving 3,000 to 4,000 pounds of vehicle is a FULL-TIME JOB! We can't be fiddling with the radio or CD player, texting, talking on a cell phone or looking at the scenery as we drive around, because when we do these things, we are not giving 100 percent to the task of driving.

Secondly, we can obey the vehicle and traffic laws, and if we don't know them, we can ask and learn.

Lastly, we can try to become the best driver we are capable of being - and this will be a constant process, because even the best driver can be better.

What do you think? Better yet, if you agree with any small part of this article, will you begin to change your driving habits? It's too late for those who have died, but it's not too late for you.


For more articles on traffic law and safety, go to the traffic safety board's website at and click on "Traffic Safety Board" under departments; then look for Did You Know articles under "services."



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