A plea for safer streets in Truckee
There was a time, as little as 30 years ago, when driving under the influence of alcohol was acceptable in many social circles. Although laws against drunken driving have been around since 1910, it took 60 years before the laws had enough teeth to have an effect on fatalities in our country. As a result, alcohol-related fatalities dropped from 26,000 in 1982 to 12,000 in 2009. Although driving under the influence of alcohol is still a problem, we see improvement every year, along with significantly less societal tolerance for drunken driving.Most any of us over the age of 25 may also remember a time when we somehow managed to get through each day without reliance on a cellphone. It’s hard to remember those times, and now most of us can’t imagine life without them. But with the proliferation of cellphones has come a new problem andamp;#8212; a reliance on them so strong that many people can’t seem to put their phone down even while driving a car. Indeed, despite laws to tackle the problem, using cellphones while driving is still acceptable in many social circles. In 2009 alone, nearly 5,500 people were killed and 450,000 more were injured in distracted-driving crashes. In a town with many cyclists, pedestrians and children, we need to do all we can to prevent our residents from being added to these statistics.Research indicates that the burden of talking on a cellphone andamp;#8212; even hands-free andamp;#8212; zaps the brain of 39 percent of the energy it would ordinarily devote to safe driving. Studies have consistently shown that using a cellphone while driving delays a driver’s reaction time by the equivalent of a .08 percent blood alcohol level, the legal limit for drunken driving. Moreover, drivers who use a hand-held device are four times more likely to get into a crash serious enough to cause injury, while texting drivers are 23 times more likely to crash. Have a teenage driver in the family? Distracted driving currently is the No. 1 killer of American teens. Alcohol-related accidents among teens have dropped, but teenage traffic fatalities have not changed because distracted driving is on the rise. Have younger children in your family? They’re watching your every move, and if you drive while on your cellphone, chances are they’ll also be tempted to do so when they’re old enough to drive. Thinking more about the welfare of our children, remember this: Although most drunken driving crashes occur in the evening hours, distracted driving happens all day long. And whereas distracted driving increases the risk of a crash for everyone on the road, the consequences of a crash can be intensified for those walking and bicycling. Bicyclists and pedestrians andamp;#8212; especially children andamp;#8212; are smaller and more likely to go unnoticed by distracted drivers, with disastrous consequences. Last year, a 9-year-old Orange County boy riding his bike to school was struck and killed by a distracted driver, and an 8-year-old Pennsylvania child was struck and killed by a distracted driver as he and his family crossed the street. More locally, well-known Nevada City bicyclist Jim Rogers was killed when struck from behind by a distracted driver in Placer County, and a local Marc Pro-Strava cyclist was clipped by a car mirror on Highway 89 North approaching Rainbow Drive (fortunately, he survived). Truckee is not immune, and indeed, campaigns are under way by local parent-teacher organizations to remind parents of the risks of driving while on their cellphones, particularly in school zones. Why? Statistics show that 42 percent of pedestrian fatalities to school-aged children occur between 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. andamp;#8212; when they’re walking home from school.As advocates for safe non-motorized transportation options in Truckee, the Truckee Trails Foundation continues to work with the Town of Truckee, Tahoe Truckee Unified School District and others to build trails, bike lanes and safer routes to our schools. Let’s all work together and pledge to make this town even safer by acknowledging the dangers of distracted driving. We somehow coped without cellphones 20 years ago, we can certainly manage to stay off them while driving now, too. Try these five safe driving practices to help keep our community safe:andamp;#8226; Keep your cellphone turned off or stored out of reach while driving.andamp;#8226; If you must talk on your phone, pull over safely to the side of the road.andamp;#8226; Pay extra care to follow posted speed limits in areas with high cycling and pedestrian traffic, particularly school zones.andamp;#8226; If snow-free trails are an option for your commute, ride your bike or walk instead!andamp;#8226; Use a designated driver or call a cab when necessary.Allison Pedley is the executive director of the Truckee Trails Foundation.
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