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September 2016 Special Edition - Close to Home Distracted Driving

Ghost Bike

Supervisor Zane writes a special edition newsletter to address a deathly dangerous trend.

I submitted a version of this op-ed article to the Press Democrat last week, prior to the death of Amy Suyama, a cyclist participating in the Tour de Fuzz ride on September 10, 2016. It hasn’t yet been published in the paper but I feel I must get this message out now!

I have participated in the Tour de Fuzz ride for many years, including this past weekend; it is one of my favorites. As you can imagine, my heart was broken when I heard the news about Amy and that her crash was likely caused by a driver making an unsafe pass. I rode on that very road just minutes before and shuddered at the memory of having experienced similar unsafe passes on other rides. This is, unfortunately, a shared experience every cyclist can relate to. 

So many drivers are just not paying attention to driving or they are driving aggressively. These behaviors are at epidemic levels and they are stealing lives and injuring so many people, especially those who are most vulnerable; those in wheelchairs, or on bikes or walking. I write this to implore you to not only resist the temptation to make that phone call or text while in your car but to also relax and drive safely and to be kind to other road users.

Distracted driving takes many forms besides texting and talking on our phones; it includes eating, smoking, applying makeup, shaving and other activities that can have disastrous outcomes when combined with the complex task of operating a motorized vehicle in traffic.  According to Distraction.gov, in 2014 alone, 3,179 people were killed, and 431,000 were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving distracted drivers on America’s roadways.

But it is not only the distracted driving that threatens lives, it is the constant pressure to hurry and speed in our cars. Did you know that impatient and aggressive driving behaviors account for more than half of all fatal crashes according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration? We lose too many lives here in Sonoma County each year because we are late and rushing. Too many are injured. But how do we stop these people?

Well, we start by looking at ourselves. Make a pledge to drive safely, to take a deep breath when you are late, resist the urge to go through that yellow, now ‘orange’ light or to roll through a simple stop sign. Will you see the child just stepping into the intersection? Will you have time to avoid a cyclist sharing the road with you? It is not worth a life to trim those few seconds or even minutes.

Last week two more students were injured at the crosswalk at Snyder lane in Rohnert Park where two year old Calli Murray was killed in 2010. The Press Democrat reports news of pedestrian and cyclist deaths and injuries with haunting regularity. I hear of close calls that County employees have had when walking or biking to work. We see it all around us; so many drivers these days roll through stop signs or run red lights while they appear to be looking at their phones.

Back in 2012 I formed the Sonoma County Safe Streets Coalition http://www.sonoma-county.org/health/meetings/safe-streets-coalition.asp to pull together local law enforcement, city and county officials, and non-profit groups that are committed to making our roads safe for all users. We are constantly collaborating on projects and seeking grants to promote safe driving, walking and bicycling. Perhaps you have seen or heard our print, television or radio campaigns, in both English and Spanish, reminding all road users that lives can be destroyed with one split second lapse in judgment. 

I completely understand how easy it is to get caught up in the rush and bustle of trying to get around on our busy roads, but the mad rush has got to stop. Being rude or impatient will get you nowhere fast, and it might even kill you or someone you love.

I hope you will join us and talk to the people you care about, the folks in your neighborhood, even your coworkers. Let’s start a dialog about this epidemic and turn around this culture of distracted, disassociated and rushed behavior.

Take a moment to imagine the disaster your life would be if you found yourself responsible for someone else’s injury or death, even by accident, because you were not applying all of your faculties to being a responsible road user. It’s not worth it, right? So starting today, shift your brain into high gear, put down the phone, slow down, take responsibility and drive like lives depend on you. Making our roads safer for all users begins with each of us.

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