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Distracted driving & speeding: Buildings fare better than pedestrians

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POSTED July 31, 2013 1:54 a.m.

About 12 years ago on West Ripon Road, just east of Austin Road, a dairy manure truck plowed into the front door of a home, spilling part of its contents.

Just a few days earlier, a commuter returning home from Livermore ran a stop sign on Wetmore Street where it T-intersects with Park Avenue, jumped the curb and literally went airborne and crashed through a bedroom wall coming to rest hanging over a bed.

In both cases the motorists were driving too fast and had become distracted while behind the wheel. Such occurrences were fairly rare. But with each passing day more and more people are slamming into stores, driving through restaurants, and plowing into houses.

There isn’t a national database per se of the causes of drivers ramming into large stationery objects that are far away from travel lanes, but quick research shows that few are blamed on sudden heath conditions such as heart attacks or stroke, or even mechanical failure. And very few are the result of someone in front of a store accidentally hitting the gas instead of the brakes.

The common denominator appears to be speeding and distracted driving.

There is also plenty of anecdotal evidence that vehicle versus building collisions are on the upswing nationally. In Cincinnati, for example, there were four cars into buildings in separate incidents over a three-day period in June.

As cars with each passing year turn into even more comfortable home entertainment centers, mobile offices, and phone booths. Rolling along at 55 mph we tend to forget their primary function is for travel. A typical family vehicle weighs around 3,200 pounds giving them the ability to turn into deadly weapons.

Short of a medical emergency or a massive mechanical failure not aided by wanton neglect when it comes to vehicle maintenance, there is no justifiable reason for anyone driving down a street to lose control of a vehicle and slam into a building.

If taking out a building wall was all that irresponsible drivers did perhaps that wouldn’t be too bad.

But the same causes of building versus car accidents — distracted driving and speeding — is seeing a spike in pedestrian fatalities after years of decline.

There were 4,109 pedestrian deaths nationwide in 2009, according to the Department of Transportation. But by 2011 — the last year figures were available — there were 4,432 pedestrian deaths out of 32,367 overall traffic deaths

But even more telling were the national traffic accident injury statistics between 2009 and 2010. They were good news for motorcyclists who saw traffic accident related injuries plummet 8.9 percent to 82,000. The news was kind of OK for passengers and drivers. The number of injured in traffic accidents went up just one percent to 2,239,000.

But for pedestrians it was open season with a significant 19-percent hike translating into 11,000 more pedestrians injured in 2010 accidents versus in 2009.

Those figures — plus the obvious disconnect behind the wheel that allows one to crash into buildings — underscores the fact vehicles have been made much safer for those inside them to withstand collisions. The same isn’t true for pedestrians.

If you wonder why people slam into houses or why more pedestrians are getting nailed, walk along Yosemite Avenue between Spreckels Avenue and the freeway sometime. Note the number of drivers who are using their phone to talk or text even when making turns on red lights. Check to see how many drivers coming out of driveways even look for pedestrians let alone come to a stop of some sort behind the sidewalk. It would be easier to count people who don’t stop at red lights before making right hand turns to check to make sure there aren’t pedestrians stepping off the curb than the people who do.

Yes, pedestrians do bonehead things too. Distracted walking while — surprise, surprise — texting or talking on a cellphone is one of them. But national statistics show that is only a small fraction of the contributing factors to pedestrian versus vehicle accidents. The overwhelming causes are drivers who are either not paying attention to driving or who are speeding.

Most drivers cut pedestrians slack and pay attention to driving. Unfortunately, more and more of us are acting as if we have our hands on the control of some harmless video game where a crash has no consequences except losing a match with a pre-programmed microchip. When it happens in real life, the losers are real people and not video images.

As sad as it may sound, the only way to make the streets of Manteca — or any place for that matter — safer is to significantly pump up traffic law enforcement efforts.

If the odds of getting a $200 to $400 ticket jumps significantly for wanton disregard of the basic rules of the road and the responsibilities one assumes when you are issued a driver’s license is what it takes to get more of us paying attention, then it is worth it.

If you don’t think stepped-up enforcement is needed start keeping track of vehicles ramming into buildings.

Or, better yet, travel Manteca without the benefit of protection afforded by 3,200-plus pounds of steel equipped with a roll cage, crumple zones, air bags, and seat belts.



This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at dwyatt@mantecabulletin.com or 209-249-3519.

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