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Hammering safe driving into the next generations
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Here’s something to text while driving: “OMG fatal crashes up 14%”.

The National Safety Council this past week projected fatalities this year will exceed 40,000 for the first time since 2007.

What gives? Google “why are accidents up” the next time you’re driving Highway 99 to find out.

Assuming you don’t hit someone in the process or drive off the road, you will find all types of distracted driving is to blame whether it is hands-free cell phones, reading old school maps or fiddling with a dash board screen displaying streets, texting, eating, putting on make-up or doing a whole laundry list of things that would have required the strength of Hulk Hogan to pull off back in the days of when pickup trucks cost less than cars and popping the hood let you see daylight below.

Yes, cars have gotten incredibly safer over the ensuing decades. At the same time we act like driving has become second nature.

The problem isn’t the vehicles equipped with air bags and seatbelts and built with crumple zones, stability-control systems, and protective passenger compartment cages. It is drivers. Cars have gotten better while the drivers have gotten worse. Insurance firms as well as federal agencies such as the National Safety Council speak with certainty that distracted driving in all forms — and not just yakking away on a cell or furiously texting as folks roll down streets and highways — are to blame.

For our inability to pry our eyes away from electronic devices and/or pay attention to where we are going as we drive 3,000 to 4,000 pounds, almost 5,000 more people will die this year as compared to 2013.

It’s a small price to pay for being connected 24/7, right? After all, the life of someone’s child, parent, spouse, or grandparent is no big deal if it allowed you to gossip, check on your fantasy football league, or watch your favorite show with one foot firmly planted on a gas pedal.

This is a problem for all of us. Besides the fact it could be you or someone you know that is either maimed or killed in the name of connectivity instant gratification, it isn’t your problem, right?

The insurance companies are glad you feel that way. Increased losses due to more accident and more fatalities means they are being forced to raise premiums. Inflation-adjusted data from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners shows the average auto insurance premium was $1,076 in 2003. Over the next eight years it dropped down to $846. Now rates are going back up as they hit an average $867 last year.

Apple and Google — the firms that became filthy rich off creating “the need” for much of the population to be glued to portable personal computers in the form of phones and other devices — now are trying to position themselves to profit off the dangerous roads they have helped create.

Driverless cars are going to save us all.

Given how quickly and frequently criminals and anti-social individuals can hack into cellphones, computers, household appliances and even some onboard vehicle systems the drawbacks are obvious.

No matter how much money Silicon Valley types stand to make from their dream of switching this country to driverless cars and creating the infrastructure needed to make them work, they can’t make a human-proof system.

All of the malcontents and emotionally challenged individuals that get their jollies from throwing rocks at vehicles, egging cars, firing on vehicles for fun an even those who feel the need to become mass murderers will have a new way to kill and injury people.

If it sounds far-fetched, what makes you so sure that onboard computer control systems will be more invincible than the Pentagon’s computer systems?

Technology by itself won’t make us safer. What will is “scaring straight” future generation of drivers. Consider everyone on the road a lost cause given they’ve already been issued licenses to kill by various Departments of Motor Vehicles.

So how do we make future drivers more attentive to the road than their electronic devices? The same way we hammered the need to recycle into a whole generation — in elementary school.

Remember the CHP demonstrations concerning the fallacy of “stopping on a dime?”

The CHP patrol car used in the demo for stopping time at various distances left skid marks for months on playgrounds.

Imagine how much more of a lasting impression that would leave if the demonstrations were done annually and instead of just leaving skid marks, the patrol unit plowed into “dummies” representing people and other cars.

Yes it might be a bit traumatic for impressionable young minds year after year but that’s the point.

It is a heck of a lot less traumatic than the result of inattentive and careless driving on both the victim and their families as well as the person doing the killing and/or maiming while behind the wheel.

A little fear is healthy especially when you are driving.

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 or 209.249.3519.