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Staff column

By RICHARD SHAW
Sun Advocate publisher

Facing new year with clear minds

Each year people write columns about making resolutions and keeping them. It seems, based on what I have observed that few people are able to keep resolutions much beyond February. For most it seems a lost cause.

So what I want to concentrate on here is past resolutions, particularly one that we as a nation have been working on for a long time.

Now we can find all the things that are wrong about America and all the things we have failed at and continue to fail at. We can complain about the economy, how bad Congress or the President is, what other kinds of goofy things our state legislature has done and will do, and how our teenagers are going downhill and will never be able to run the country.

But there are a number of things that are right too. And one of those is the incidence of death on our roads.

Did you know that this last year the number of people killed on highways is the lowest it has been since the late 1940s. That is impressive, particularly since there is 10 times more traffic on the roads than there was then.

Most of us came to the point where we expected the number of deaths on the highway in the U.S. to stay at at least 50,000 per year and expected only a short time ago that this would rise with the amount of traffic.

Last year the toll was 32,788, the lowest since 1949.

With all the other things that we have done wrong in our county, all the things the pundits harp on day in and day out, how have we managed this?

Well there are a number of ways. First, while alcohol still is involved in a lot of traffic accidents, we have really driven (literally) the number of people who drive under the influence down considerably. Campaigns across the country, both nationally and in local areas have curbed drunk driving. From higher arrest rates for DUI (basically officers of the law give you no leeway today as they did many years ago) to groups like Mothers Against Drunk Driving campaigning hard for tougher laws and more education, the nation has seen a drop in incidence of related death due to alcohol caused accidents. On New Year's Eve and other times, companies, lawyers and civic groups offer free rides home to people who will call them and give up the thought of driving while drunk. Lawsuits concerning the people who get people drunk and that cause accidents have also made bar keeps and even those with private parties more cognizant of the implications of people getting drunk at their place and then driving.

Another factor is safer highways. Let's just look at that locally. When I first started working for the Sun Advocate in 2000, I found myself as a reporter going out and covering almost an average of one fatal accident a month on Highway 6. Since then the highway has been vastly improved with better signage, more passing lanes, better stripping and other design improvements. While one death is too much, it is much better than it was.

However there is still work to be done, and no one should let down their guard or their activities to get the state to continue to improve the highway. Note to that Highway 10 to Emery County has been improved a great deal too.

Education on safety has also helped, particularly in getting people to buckle up. In doing the historical pieces I have done for the paper I was shocked that as late as the early 1980s only about 30 percent of the people in Carbon County used seat belts regularly. Now it is over 80 percent based on recent surveys. I remember the days when I heard people say that it was better to be thrown from a car than be stuck in it, particularly in the case of a fire. It was a myth then and now. Sure there are selected circumstances that can happen, but when thrown out of a car the chances of being killed are much greater than when a person stays inside, fire or not.

Finally, car design and safety has impacted the number of deaths. I think about my first late 1950s car that I owned when I was in high school and can now imagine what would have happened if I had been driving that in a head on collision. A hard dashboard, no seatbelts, no air bags, and solid, non-collapsible steering column, and hood that would come right through the front window, etc. would have been my fate. Actually when you think about it, it is amazing more people weren't killed in pre-1980 vehicles that were.

Cars are much safer and become safer each year.

But while all these things have been done to cars and highways, while education about all these points have been made, and while we all know from photos and digital film or what have you that accidents are deadly and destructive, the most dangerous thing in a car is the driver.

Today we are struggling with cell phones, texting and other electronic devices. Recently the federal government came out and said cell phones and other electronic communication devices should be banned from cars by the states.

With that comes the argument that we are supposed to be a free society, and we should be able to do what we want. Some dispute the studies that say cell phones actually take us out of the car and to the place where the person we are talking to is, instead of concentrating on our driving.

I bet there are very few people reading this that have not used a cell phone while driving and will do it again. Next time you talk on your cell phone and are driving, when you are done with the conversation, think back and remember how many of the corners you passed that you really saw. Can you remember if you saw any pedestrians? How much traffic was there? Most importantly, did you really look at the traffic lights or did you just go through an intersection because the driver in front of you did?

New challenges, new ideas, new concerns.

The new year will bring lots of problems to us, but we also will solve a lot too. Each year we get better at some things, and seemingly worse at others.

So let the new year begin, and let's face our challenges with clear and open minds.




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