Northwestern Press

Monday, December 16, 2019

Editor's View

Thursday, December 4, 2014 by JOHANNA S. BILLINGS jbillings@tnonline.com in Opinion

Be careful; it's a jungle out there

I wasn't on MacArthur Road in Whitehall for very long before I knew something was dreadfully wrong.

Traffic was backed up. Two diamond-shaped orange signs warned, "Accident Ahead."

This was the morning of Nov. 19. I knew it was bad, even before I learned the accident claimed the life of a Moore Township man.

I really wasn't all that anxious about being stuck in traffic. Mostly I was grateful to be alive.

A total of 33,561 people were killed as the result of motor vehicle crashes in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Statistics for 2013 and 2014 are not yet available.

This may seem like a relatively small number but if you think about it, they're all senseless deaths.

Despite safety improvements made to motor vehicles over the years, they're still rather fragile. Our bodies are more fragile yet.

Consider that in addition to the 33,561 deaths, the NHTSA estimates 2.36 million people were injured in crashes during 2012.

While many injuries were minor, some were also serious and life changing.

I know we all at least think we drive safely, though whether we do or not is a matter of debate. Even if we do everything right, we still have to worry about the other guy.

A few days after the fatal crash, I was on my way to a doctor's appointment in Bethlehem when I passed two, tri-axle dump trucks.

When I went through the next traffic light, it was yellow. Both dump trucks followed me through the intersection without even slowing down.

I am certain at least one of them ran a red light.

Such driving behavior by others makes it all the more important for us to drive defensively.

NHTSA has some tips for how we can all reach our destinations safely.

"Reading, eating, drinking or talking on the phone can be a major cause of roadway crashes," the NHTSA website states.

We've all heard the preaching about cellphones but eating and drinking? I never really thought of that before

I would imagine using other devices, such as MP3 players, would be distracting as well.

Tailgating is a "major cause of crashes" that can cause serious injury or death. It makes sense. Most of us can probably figure that out.

The trick is to remember it when the guy in front of you is going more slowly than you would like and back off.

Making frequent lane changes is another danger. Think about it this way. If you get around one more car, are you really getting ahead?

Chances are you're not, especially in a long lines of traffic. You're likely to end up at the same red light together.

"Do not enter an intersection on a yellow light," the website warns.

I've been guilty of this. Haven't we all? You're humming along and the light turns yellow and you figure you can make it. Maybe you can. But what about traffic the other direction?

If you're running the red light, even unintentionally, those coming the other way may be forced to stop on a green light in order to avoid a collision.

But maybe they won't stop. Maybe they're eating, drinking or talking on their cellphones and they don't see that you are in the intersection when you shouldn't be. This can lead to a crash.

Not surprisingly, the NHTSA advises driving the posted speed limit.

"Fewer crashes occur when vehicles are traveling at or about the same speed," the website says.

This I find interesting as often most traffic is going above the posted speed limit. I could not find whether the NHTSA would advise going with the flow to experience safety at about the same speed, or driving more slowly than everyone else.

I would imagine the organization would advise the latter. Collisions are less severe at slower speeds.

You might also consider identifying alternate routes for your daily commute.

The NHTSA advises finding different routes that are less congested even if they're longer. I also found knowledge of the roads in the area to be worthwhile when sitting in the traffic following the fatality Nov. 19.

Authorities were detouring people through Egypt. I decided to go the other way, through Northampton and Coplay before bringing me back to MacArthur, south of the crash site.

In order to go a different way instead of following the detour, I had to change lanes in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

In the process of looking for an opening in the other lane, I came close to hitting the vehicle in front of me in my own lane. This illustrates just how hard it can be to drive safely, even when you're not distracted.

Aggressive drivers can also be a hazard on the road. Your best bet is to get out of their way.

"Put aside your pride," the NHTSA says. "Do not challenge them by speeding up or attempting to hold your own in your travel lane."

Avoid eye contact because this can sometimes enrage an aggressive driver. And, if the other driver makes gestures, ignore them rather than returning them. You don't want to make the other driver so distracted by his reaction that a crash occurs and you're the victim.

The NHTSA advises reporting serious aggressive driving but warns, "If you use a cellphone, pull over to a safe location."

Johanna S. Billings

editor

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