Editorial: Don’t become a statistic
According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, 628 people were killed in automobile crashes on Colorado roadways in 2018, a slight decrease from 2017 numbers, but still a troubling statistic, particularly when one considers how many of those deaths might have been prevented.
Another — and perhaps more striking — way to look at it is this: If historical trends hold true, some 500 to 600 people who are alive and well and planning for tomorrow as you read these words won’t be by the time Christmas rolls back around, and they won’t be because they will have been killed in an automobile crash that hasn’t yet occurred.
We don’t like to think about things like that, so most of the time, we don’t. But whether we like thinking about it or not, traveling by automobile is risky business, particularly in the icy heart of a Northwest Colorado winter.
Much of the problem is, we humans tend to take the things we do every day for granted, and most of us who are past the age of 16 drive an automobile pretty much every day. It’s a familiar activity, and familiarity, unfortunately, sometimes breed complacence.
But consider this. If you’re traveling in a car at 65 miles per hour, you’re covering just over 95 feet every second. A controlled study at the University of Iowa conducted in 2000 found the average driver reaction brake time to be 2.3 seconds. In other words, at 65 miles per hour, the average driver will have covered 218 feet between the time he or she sees a road hazard and the time he or she hits the brakes. That’s a little past the 70 yard line on a football field.
Now, consider the fact that overall stopping distances are doubled on a wet road and multiplied by a factor of 10 on an icy or snowpacked road.
With those facts in mind, it’s really no surprise that automobile crashes invariably rise during winter months.
Granted, there’s only so much we can do. Most of us have to drive, and regardless of how careful we are, driving in winter carries risks.
But there are things we can all do to minimize that risk.
• Never drive while under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. This should be obvious, but many feel they’re fine to drive after a couple of drinks. The fact is, however, that consumption of alcohol — even in small amounts — depresses the central nervous system and reduces reaction time.
• Always wear a seatbelt. We’ve lost count of the number of fatal crashes we’ve reported on in which the deceased persons were not buckled up and were consequently ejected from the vehicle. We wonder how many of those people would be alive today if they’d taken two seconds to fasten their seatbelts.
• When following other vehicles, do so at a safe distance. Based upon the above reaction times — and under ideal driving conditions — you should maintain a distance of a little more than three feet from the vehicle in front of you for every mile per hour in speed. That calculation is a little too involved to perform while driving, but it can be estimated using the Two Second Rule: When the vehicle in front of you passes a landmark, begin counting up from 1,000. If you pass the landmark before reaching 1,002, you’re following too closely. If the roadway is wet or icy, the safe following distance should be multiplied by a factor of two or 10, respectively.
• Always remember that the many potential pitfalls of car travel are multiplied when roads are wet or icy, so plan ahead. It’s going to take a little longer to get where you’re going, but getting there a little later is infinitely preferable to not getting there at all. So, allow a little extra time, and try to be patient.
Essentially, it comes down to being mindful of your own safety and the safety of others. Just like an aisle in a grocery store or a downtown sidewalk, the roads are shared spaces, and sharing requires thinking about the needs and well-being of others. The critical difference is, when it comes to sharing the road, we’re all converted from a couple of hundred pounds of flesh and bone into a couple of thousand pounds of steel.
We realize that some — probably the folks who most need to read and heed these words — will cast them aside.
“I’ve been driving in Colorado for 40 years,” we can hear them saying. “I know what I’m doing.”
And maybe you do. Maybe it will never happen to you.
But the fact remains: Some 500 to 600 people in our state who are alive today won’t be by Christmas.
Please, do everything in your power to make sure you’re not one of them.
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