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Crosses along the highway

November 15, 2008|By LLOYD "PETE" WATERS

During my travels through the many states of our great nation, I am often humbled by crosses that dot many highways. Each cross usually represents a highway death that occurred as the result of a traffic accident. I think about the sadness and grief for those remaining families who must carry this burden for a lifetime.

Although nationwide traffic fatalities actually decreased from 42,708 in 2006 to 41,059 in 2007, this figure should still be very alarming to most Americans. One traffic fatality seems like too many to me. By comparison, in the Iraq war, just over 4,000 American soldiers have died.

Additionally, in 2007 some 2.49 million people were also injured in motor vehicle traffic crashes. Many will carry the physical scars for the rest of their lives.

In Maryland there were 614 fatalities in 2007.

Most recently, there was a serious accident on the Bay Bridge with a tractor trailer going over the side, killing the driver.

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As the news reports were received, it was alleged that one vehicle crossed the center line and was headed for the truck whose driver apparently swerved in an attempt to avoid the accident and plunged over the bridge into the dark waters of the bay.

The investigation is continuing but driver error, as usual, might be the culprit.

A friend of mine was recently going on vacation to Ocean City and then had to make a contingency plan to circumvent the bay because his wife was now more leery than ever of crossing the bridge in the aftermath of this accident.

Accidents can happen to anyone at any time. Driving etiquette on our highways today appears to be diminishing as our roads get more crowded and drivers become more impatient.

While watching the reports concerning the Bay Bridge accident, I was mindful that in 1972 as a young adult, I accidentally knocked over a telephone pole myself and put out most of the lights on Taylors Landing Road. How, you might wonder, do you accidentally knock over a telephone pole, given all that extra space between the two poles?

Well, there were some problems with the road design for sure. Another driver was involved. Perhaps speed was also a factor. A speedometer doesn't seem to work very well as you begin travelling through the air. I know one thing for certain; when I made contact with the pole the vehicle came to a sudden stop. At any rate, I survived this accident and lived to share this tale.

Accidents can often be avoided, but it does not seem that we are inclined to take those necessary measures to avoid them at times. Even if we do, the poor driving behavior of others can often involve the innocent.

Recently, in California, they have banned the use of cell phones while driving. Unfortunately, the law does not make any restrictions for text messaging. Text messaging is actually being investigated as a possible cause in the recent train disaster in Los Angeles that killed 25 people.

Cell phone use on our highways seems to be a growing problem. If you don't believe me just count those drivers who are using their cell phones on your next trip to the grocery store.

If you are intently involved in a phone conversation, how can you be mindful of your speed, and the many factors surrounding your car (i.e. other vehicles, traffic lights, pedestrians, weather concerns, traffic signs, road conditions etc.)? And, oh yeah, don't forget the deer!

Did you ever meet a person who has difficulty performing one task at a time let alone three or four? If you have, consider that person behind a wheel of a 3,000- pound vehicle as described above.

Some recent "drinking while driving" commercials I saw on TV would be kind of humorous if they were not so deadly serious. Alcohol also contributes to a large number of the fatalities across our country.

Everyone always seems to be in a rush and the speed limits on our highways seem to accommodate this aspect of our lives. Traffic alerts advise us to "slow down and live" while lawful traffic speed limits have increased over the years.

Many experts seem pleased that "only" 41,059 deaths have occurred on our highways. Unfortunately, those crosses along the road are reminders that too many have died on our nation's roads.

Is there anything we can do to prevent more fatalities? I think the answer is obvious - each and every one of us should strive to do better as we leave our driveway for the highway. Whether or not we return to our families and friends is dependent on our driving habits - and sometimes luck.

Take your driving responsibility seriously and live to drive another day ... besides, there are way too many crosses along the highway ... and no need to add any more.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Washington County resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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