Manteca’s streets have never been deadlier.
The early Friday morning death of a pedestrian on North Airport Way has brought the death count from traffic accidents on Manteca’s streets to seven so far this year with four months to go.
That is the highest death count in at least 30 years. It includes three pedestrians.
Of those seven deaths, three were this week.
Although official causes won’t be known for months as Manteca Police go through the meticulous process of piecing together — and analyzing — evidence, it is clear in two of the three deaths reckless behavior was likely a factor. One of those two fatalities involved a vehicle barreling into the Union Road and Louise Avenue intersection at an extremely high rate of speed. The other was a motorcyclist traveling fast and reckless enough down Atherton Drive to not just slam into a fire hydrant but to hit it with such force it sheared it off at the base.
In both cases the wanton behavior and complete disregard for the lives of others are things that the City of Manteca could not possibly design streets to eliminate or the Manteca Police could enforce laws to prevent.
The carnage over the last three decades reads at times like an A to Z description of distracted driving or driving too fast for conditions.
uA Manteca High freshman walking along the road was killed — and his classmates injured — by a driver that dropped her cellphone, leaned down to pick it up, and veered off the pavement.
uMore than one individual trying to cross under cloak of darkness the wide open stretch of North Main Street from Alameda Street to Louise Avenue where drivers pick up speed and a place that lacks medians to serve as safe havens for pedestrians lost their lives.
uDrunk drivers blowing through stop signs at intersection such as Airport Way and Woodward Avenue and killing others.
uMultiple times when motorcyclists have been traveling at excessive speeds that have ended in deaths.
uAn elderly man pushing his grandchild in a stroller almost got all the way across Woodward Avenue before a driver — who said the sun dropping toward the horizon blinded him seconds before — struck and killed the grandfather.
The fatal accidents mentioned save for perhaps the pedestrian deaths on North Main where the street design treats pedestrians not even as an afterthought rest squarely on those driving because they were distracted, in no condition to drive, weren’t paying attention to the road and driving conditions that include the sun, or were driving angry or treating Manteca’s streets as their own private dragstrips.
These were not “accidents” as they all involved deliberate decisions with wanton disregard for traffic laws and other people or being behind the wheel and not focusing your undivided attention on steering a 3,000-pound weapon capable of killing and maiming others on Manteca streets.
These are just deaths. There are another 900 plus accidents a year that damage vehicles and break bodies with a dollar loss that exceeds the monetary impact of all other crime committed in Manteca.
Yet Manteca Police only issued 1,397 tickets for moving violations last year and 801 so far this year through July 31. Compare that to 2009 when 2,511 tickets for moving violations were issued. Simply put, there is a correlation between issuing moving violation tickets and behavior of drivers.
It’s why police talk about the three “E”s when it comes to traffic safety — engineering, enforcement, and education.
Tickets do double duty covering both enforcement and education.
An aggressive enforcement of traffic laws creates a reputation, or a fear if you will, among those people who still have a conscious and would never drive like a lunatic doing 100 mph down Louise but aren’t as attentive as they should be behind the wheel.
We need more targeted traffic enforcement. This, by the way, is not the fault of a command decisions by Manteca Police or even top brass at city hall. This falls squarely on how our elected leaders opt to divvy up our tax dollars.
There were five fulltime officers dedicated to the MPD traffic division a decade ago. Now there are only three despite the fact the city has added more than 17,000 residents during the same time period.
Perhaps someone might want to ask the people they elected to office what is a wise use of money: squirreling away 25 percent of the general fund for a rainy day by saving money to buy more body bags or doubling the size of the department’s dedicated traffic enforcement unit?
To contact Dennis Wyatt, email email@example.com