Friday, February 18, 2011

Slow down out there ... the life you save may be your own

By Mike Ullery

Chief Photographer

Spring is in the air, and all around the area, young drivers, tired of being constrained by snow and ice are ready … they feel, “the need … the need for speed.”

As the air warms and roadways clear, an adrenaline rush turns feet into lead weights on the accelerators of vehicles operated by teenage drivers who think themselves invincible.

Parents, teachers and law enforcement officials do their best to warn young drivers of the dangers lurking on the road but too many teens, and a good many adults, choose to ignore the warnings.

Spring is still more than a month away, but I am already seeing too many examples of drivers suffering from spring fever. There is an old saying about it taking “a 2x4 to hit you between the eyes” in order to get one’s attention. The reality is that aggressive and inattentive driving can lead to a telephone pole hitting you between the eyes … literally.

In a matter of weeks we will begin to hear that it is prom time. Schools will begin to have mock crashes to re-educate students to the dangers of drunken driving and texting will driving. These are good lessons. They are lessons learned from real crashes. Those crashes resulted in real families losing real sons and daughters.

How about, we don’t wait until “prom time” to think about dangerous driving practices? How about, we adults stop thinking that warnings against aggressive and inattentive driving are only for young and less experienced drivers?

Roadways are becoming more congested with each passing year as more and more drivers take to the highway.

I lament that the days of driving on a rural roadway, night or day, and rarely seeing another vehicle are long gone. I remember that in the not-so-distant past, one could take “the back way” to get to many destinations without dealing with much traffic. Today, “the back way” is often just a heavily traveled as the main routes.

All of this adds up to more dangerous roadways. More cars and less patient drivers are a recipe for trouble. Most of us feel that we spent most of this past winter driving in slow motion. Roadways were ice and snow covered for a large part of the past couple of months. Motorists adapted to the road conditions and slowed accordingly.

This past week, we woke up and found roadways clear. There is a natural tendency to want to speed up. Maybe we are attempting to make up for time lost during the winter.

We must be aware of the many dangers lurking on re-discovered bare pavement. Potholes can cause serious damage. Driving at “100 percent alertness, 100 percent of the time,” is a phrase coined by Ohio State Highway Patrol Sgt. Paul Weber, who is stationed at the Piqua Post. Weber has made a personal mission of educating drivers on the dangers of inattentive driving.

One of my concerns is that many of the same parents who preach safety to the young drivers in their family, fail to “practice what they preach.” If someone is killed by an aggressive or inattentive driver, it makes no difference if the driver was 17 or 40 years old … they are just as dead.

As parents, we need to lead our children by example. That leadership extends to times when we are behind the wheel. Even little kids absorb what dad or mom are doing and saying as they drive the family car. I believe that we can begin to develop safe driving habits in our children, and grandchildren, when they are still sitting in a child safety seat.

If you think that your child is not paying attention, just think about how many times you may have uttered a “dirty word” when you thought a child wasn’t listening, only to have them repeat the word, usually at the most embarrassing moment. Kids are paying attention.

This spring, encourage your teenage drivers, and maybe take time to heed the advice yourself, the arrival of warmer weather is not the time to “feel your oats” or “blow out the carburetor,” or whatever excuse one might use for driving a nearly-one-ton wheeled weapon with reckless abandonment and endangering the lives of innocent bystanders.

When you get behind the wheel this spring, let’s put down the cell phone, the iPad, the electric shaver, the curling iron, the lipstick and the Big Mac. How about we all slow down and “smell the roses?”

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