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We all can be safer on our roads: Editorial

Posted 12/18/19

When Middletown police reached out to us at the Press & Journal about what they called an “alarming” increase in traffic accidents in the borough in recent weeks, we knew something …

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We all can be safer on our roads: Editorial

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When Middletown police reached out to us at the Press & Journal about what they called an “alarming” increase in traffic accidents in the borough in recent weeks, we knew something pretty serious must be going on.

Police report that 27 accidents occurred in the borough from Nov. 1 through Dec. 3. As reporter Dan Miller states in his front-page story this week, the number of accidents for all of 2019 is “slightly down” compared to 2018. But this recent trend is “alarming” as the incidents have mostly all been in broad daylight with weather not being a factor.

As the weather gets worse, as it has this week, police are asking that drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists exercise be more cautious.

We appreciate the head’s-up from the police department, because this is important information for the public to have.

You can call it a friendly holiday reminder that will last the entire year.

Throughout Pennsylvania, Operation Safe Holiday started around Thanksgiving. Law enforcement will conduct sobriety checkpoints, roving patrols, and regular traffic safety patrols beginning  through the New Year’s holiday to crack down on drivers impaired by drugs or alcohol.

One of the biggest public safety campaigns of late is texting and driving. According to www.donttextanddrive.com, if you text and drive, you’re 23 times more likely to have a car crash. Texting while driving has become the No. 1 driving distraction for many people. If something is so important that you must text, then pull to the side of the road.

Middletown police say distracted driving was a known factor in one crash, where a driver was seen holding a cellphone up to his face as he ran the red light at Vine and Main streets and caused an accident.

Another potential cause of accidents is a loss of driving skills through aging. That is not a topic many of us want to face, whether we are the ones getting older or whether we are talking about loved ones such as our parents.

Older Driver Safety Awareness Week was observed Dec. 2-6. According to state figures, about 23 percent of Pennsylvania’s 8.9 million licensed drivers are 65 or older. In 2018, there were 21,746 crashes involving a driver 65 or older, resulting in 330 fatalities. This represents nearly 17 percent of the total crashes in Pennsylvania and nearly 28 percent of the fatalities.

Signs that can indicate it might be time to limit or stop driving altogether include:

• Feeling uncomfortable, fearful, or nervous when driving.

• Unexplained dents/scrapes on the car, fences, mailboxes or garage doors.

• Frequently getting lost and frequent “close calls” (i.e. almost crashing).

• Slower response times, particularly to unexpected situations.

• Difficulty paying attention to signs or staying in the lane of traffic.

• Trouble judging gaps at intersections or highway entrance/exit ramps.

Middletown police Detective Sgt. Gary Rux urged drivers to be aware of becoming complacent — basically driving as if on auto pilot the same route the same time everyday, to where they become oblivious to sudden changes in the traffic pattern, or a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

That’s certainly good advice.

We also have the often-dangerous driving night of New Year’s Eve just a couple of weeks away. Please be safe that night. Find a designated driver, use public transit if you can, or grab a cab or use Uber or Lyft or other ride-sharing service if that’s an option.

Over the past 40 years, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, there has been a general downward trend in traffic fatalities. Safety programs such as those increasing seat belt use and reducing impaired driving have substantially lowered the traffic fatalities, according to the agency. In 2018, drunken driving fatalities dropped about 4 percent, accounting for 29 percent of 2018 traffic deaths — the lowest percentage since 1982 when NHTSA started reporting alcohol data. Cars are built to be safer as well.

But all those numbers don’t mean anything when it’s you or a loved one involved in a crash.

We all can take steps to be safer on the road. Let this warning from Middletown police be a wakeup call for all of us.