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No left turn at El Rancho is there for safety

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POSTED November 30, 2009 2:20 a.m.

Don’t look at a gift horse in the mouth through a shattered windshield.  

The police officer who looks into a twisted wreck was there before – “to protect and to serve” – trying to be proactive, and wanting to derail the inevitable of a devasting crash just waiting to happen.

Too many senior citizens have been telling traffic officers to get out of their faces – they know how to drive safely.  They too often feel they have the wisdom to know what is best.  

It’s really not the police who decide where the need is the greatest, and just where to install those warning signs for the motoring public – but rather the traffic engineers.

Police officers have a collection of indelible memories of motorists trapped in their cars after broadside collisions.  It’s a crash scene where too few survive the impact.

In my case, at least – having covered countless fatal and major injury crashes over some 40 years – they are memories that won’t go away. They continue to haunt me like having seen drivers burned alive. I have always thought while at the scene: If we could only turn the clock back 30 minutes, it might have been different.

El Rancho residents
claim discrimination
At El Rancho Mobile Home Park on East Yosemite Avenue there is a movement to reverse the north exit requirement of limiting those leaving the property to only turning right.  Residents claim it be discriminatory toward the older people who live there not being able to turn left.  Some even say that they make that left turn anyway, refusing to use the exit at the back of the park that leads out to a four way signal light – put there for their safety.  

It’s discriminatory, they say, because nearby business patrons don’t have the same limitation put upon them – they can turn left across three lanes of traffic.  It’s all about police traffic officers writing tickets and the subsequent increases in auto insurance – sometimes as much as $400.

Then, too, there is the debate about whether motorists in their 80s and 90s have a slower response time than the younger drivers. Nobody likes to admit they are slowing down, but it’s a fact – like it or not.

What bothers me most is the thought of having to cover another broad side collision. You never get use to seeing a motorist crumpled behind the wheel, often times crushed and squeezed under the dash board where firemen have to use the Jaws of Life to extricate them.  And, if they can’t get them out in time, witnessing them go into a life-threatening state of shock.

So, if the Manteca Police Department were to react to the pressure of seniors who feel they are discriminated against, and lobby against the traffic engineers to take the signs down – or just turn their backs on the repeated violations – what then can be expected?  The warnings will be gone, and everyone will be making their own decisions with regard to the speed of approaching traffic with no citations or increased insurance premiums.

Crossing the three lanes of traffic against westbound car,  and truck traffic will be seen as OK by,  once again,  for an  endless line of motorists leaving the mobile home park the fastest way possible – out the Yosemite Avenue exit.

Doesn’t anyone living there see the danger in that equation through the wisdom of their years — some 200 motorists either heading for the freeway or to shop in Manteca?  Sure they will look to the right, and look to the left and take their best “chance” to get across the roadway.  

It’s potentially the beginning of a terrible scenario that will probably end with  a motorist broadsided by oncoming traffic -- to be crunched in their seat behind the wheel, feeling more helpless than ever before – if conscious, hoping help arrives quickly and praying they survive.

Same arguments were
made against seat belts
The same argument was made statewide about seat belts.  I vividly remember a predawn freeway accident on New Year’s Day in Southern California – 50 years ago – when a motorist punched a hole through his windshield with his head, creating a collar of glass that cut away at his throat.  There was little I could do to help the terrified, blood drenched driver then either.

At another accident late at night on Highway 120 between Austin and Jack Tone roads, I witnessed one teen sobbing and cradling the head of his dying brother on the edge of the roadway where the asphalt met the sand.  Somehow I got there before the ambulance and the CHP; seeing the type of bleeding from the boy’s head I knew there was nothing that could be done to help him.

When working for a daily newspaper in Southern California we had a 90-year-old driver going the wrong way on the freeway.  For miles motorists were able to dodge her as she waved at them thinking she was only in the right lane of a three lane roadway with scores of “friendly” drivers.  She finally took out an oncoming driver – both died.

Ten years ago while driving home after dark in Ripon, I was going over the curving Second Street bridge across Highway 99 shocked at  what seemed to be offset lights around the bend in the roadway.  It was a motorist I recognized to be in her early 90s, coming straight at me on the wrong side of the road. It didn’t end tragically – I’m here today as proof of that.  It was obvious to be she never realized that she was in the wrong.

No one wants a major crash in front of El Rancho – and the likelihood is greater it will occur if those signs come down.   At that point the police department will draw much finger pointing if they, in fact, had looked the other way and allowed the removal of the warning signs under pressure or had turned their backs on violators.

Few people love cops like they love firemen —  especially when they write traffic tickets.  On the other side of the coin the motorist trapped in his car after a crash can’t wait for that same officer to speed across town to get to his or her side – too often, too late.

It happens all too often including just a few blocks away from from El Rancho when an elderly couple turned left across traffic at McDonald’s not too long ago.

It was 11 a.m. on a clear day when his passenger died from her broadside injuries.  I remember the trauma well.  I would have done anything if someone could have just turned back the clock a mere five minutes.

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