Editorials, Opinion

Better to arrive late than never

As some of you know, we keep a scanner in the newsroom that allows us to monitor emergency calls. As the day wears on, we hear everything from loitering to domestic arguments to overdoses to fires and some very strange things in between.

But not a day goes by that we don’t hear at least one emergency call involving a vehicle. Hit-and-runs, especially in parking lots, come up a lot. There are also a disturbing number of road-rage incidents and reckless diving (e.g., speeding and weaving in and out of traffic). And we hear about vehicle crashes — particularly on Interstates 68 and 79 — with alarming frequency. And those calls are usually the worst.

Just this past Monday, there were three accidents on I-68 early in the morning that closed both westbound lanes: A car struck a construction barrier at the I-68/79 split; a ripple-effect rear-end crash involving four vehicles; and a separate rear-end collision ended up with both cars in the median and one person going to the hospital. Last Tuesday, a car and van got squished between big rigs, leaving the car unrecognizable. Shockingly, there were no fatalities, but several people were sent to the hospital. (Calls for a rear-end collision and a reckless driving/road rage incident came over the scanner as this editorial was being written.)

The overall trend of yearly vehicle accidents has risen gradually but steadily in the last decade, going from 5.6 million in 2012 to 6.1 million in 2021. (There was a peak 6.75 million accidents in 2019, but then a steep drop in 2020 to 5.25 million, as stay-at-home orders took effect, before climbing again.) The trend line is roughly the same for the number of crash fatalities: Some years are a little higher or lower, but the trend line has been angling up for the past decade. But on average, roughly 40,000 people (give or take a few thousand) die in vehicle accidents each year.

According to a Forbes analysis, 35% of crash fatalities are caused by impaired (read: intoxicated) driving, while speeding accounted for 29%. Put them together, and nearly two-thirds of deadly car wrecks could have been prevented if drivers made better decisions.

Hopefully, these numbers serve as a sobering reminder to drive safely.

Don’t drive while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Suck it up and call a ride-share or taxi. Or ask a sober friend to come pick you up. Worst case scenario, sleep it off in your parked car. Even better — make a plan for how you will get home (safely) before you drink.

Don’t speed. Look, we get it — 70 miles per hour can feel like crawling sometimes, and it’s hard not to push it to 75 or a little more. But there is almost never any reason to go above 80 mph (unless someone in the vehicle is having a medical emergency and you are on your way to the hospital; in which case, put on your hazard lights and call 911). The faster you are driving, the less time you have to react if something goes wrong.

Related: Leave at least one car length between you and the car in front of you. If they have to stop or swerve suddenly and you’re too close, there’s a much greater chance of rear-ending them. Or of you getting rear-ended by the person in front of you, if you do manage to stop in time.

We’ve all had days when we’re running late and we don’t exactly obey the letter of the traffic laws. We push the speed limit a little, we weave around annoyingly slow cars and we accelerate through lights that are more red than yellow.

But it’s better to arrive a few minutes late to your destination than to be several hours late because you wrecked your and/or someone else’s car. Or worse — to never arrive at all.