Elizabeth Alves: Crappy Driving Is Dragging – And Running – Us Down

Caltrans District 1 is launching a campaign to encourage traffic safety for all road users. “Share the Road – Arrive Alive” will include six public service announcements which will run on local television stations and in movie theaters. There will also be reminders on the radio and a presence on the Internet.

The tips will be aimed at motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists. There’s no doubt they are needed, but it remains to be seen how effective they will be. It seems as if hardly a day goes by without some kind of serious traffic accident being reported.

Just recently, a McKinleyville man drove through a line of cones and struck a Caltrans worker on the Murray Road overcrossing. The accident investigation is incomplete as I write this, but the initial report said alcohol did not appear to be a factor. Because the driver is 84 years old, many people assumed he shouldn’t have been driving.

It’s true that while some people in that age range remain physically and mentally capable of being safe drivers, some do not. But it’s not as easy as just telling them to hang up the keys. Humboldt County lacks the type of comprehensive public transportation system which makes it simple and convenient to stop driving.

Every time transportation needs are assessed, easy, affordable transportation for older citizens comes out near the top of the list of needs, but little gets done. There are lots of reasons, but the bottom line is that our elders who don’t have friends or family who can provide rides have few options. Shopping, medical appointments and socializing can fall by the wayside; it’s understandable that older drivers keep trying to convince themselves they can still do it.

If that turns out to be the case here, it will be of little comfort to the injured worker, who was flown out of the county to a trauma center down below, with his family and friends. Either way, we need a better network of public transportation, which almost certainly means finding a way to fund massive insurance costs. It’s also a chicken and egg conundrum, because people won’t depend on it until it’s available and reliable, but low ridership in the early phases can doom the plan.

Eureka just got $116,400 in grant money to improve traffic safety. It’s pretty much a slam dunk, since the city has incredibly high rates of traffic accidents, especially those involving pedestrians. Much of the money will be used to pay officers to work overtime shifts, targeting speeding, distracted and impaired drivers.

Former City of Arcata employee Ken Newell was struck by a car which had plowed through traffc cones at a Eureka construction zone Dec. 27, 2011. He died several days later. The teenage driver’s windshield had fogged over, and he was not charged. Newell, 68, was an Arcata High School graduate and U.S. Army veteran.  KLH | File Photo

Former City of Arcata employee Ken Newell was struck by a car which had plowed through traffc cones at a Eureka construction zone Dec. 27, 2011. He died several days later. The teenage driver’s windshield had fogged over, and he was not charged. Newell, 68, was an Arcata High School graduate and U.S. Army veteran. KLH | File Photo

I’m not sure that’s the best use of resources, since the money won’t go as far at overtime rates as it would paying for straight time. The good thing is that it can start right away, without waiting to recruit, hire and train officers to fill existing vacancies. Another portion of the money will be used on new equipment for DUI checkpoints.

Again, I’d like to see more boots on the ground and less vague spending. Traffic in Eureka is verifiably awful; the arterials are raceways and the consequences seem to be negligible. Eureka officials have said that improving the situation will have to be a three-pronged program of education, engineering and enforcement, but I say a ton of enforcement would go a long way toward improving the problem.

Engineering will take forever and three weeks. The best education is to blanket Sixth and Seventh, H and I and Harrison with police officers prepared to teach motorists that driving 45 miles per hour in a 30 mile per hour zone results in an expensive ticket. It has become common for full size vehicles to be overturned in intersections on those streets, something which would be much less likely if everyone would slow down.

Speeds are generally slower in Arcata, but the city has its own share of issues. It is much more friendly to pedestrians and bicyclists, but some of them are completely oblivious to the dangers they court. I’ve had two close calls recently that rattled me.

One was a child riding fast in the bike lane, but going the wrong way. Luckily I checked one more time before I pulled out, and saw him at the last minute. At least he was wearing a helmet.

A week later, an unhelmeted adult pulled the same trick. He was pedaling hard the wrong way in the bike lane on a one-way street. Some drivers don’t even bother to look in the opposite direction when all the traffic is supposed to be coming from the same direction.

It seems to me that lack of traffic enforcement is a lot like letting graffiti remain in place – it drags our communities down. I know our law enforcement agencies are stretched, but if a few people start getting tickets, the news will spread like wildfire. Maybe it will encourage people to leave home a few minutes earlier and pay more attention.

 

Elizabeth Alves sees a lot of drivers speeding on their way to work as she goes home after the night shift. Comments and suggestions are welcome care of the Union or to [email protected]

 

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