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OPINION: Time to turn the tide on dangerous driving

by MATTHEW CONDE/Guest Opinion
| January 21, 2024 1:00 AM

Many of us recently watched (or re-watched) the movie "It’s a Wonderful Life" over the holidays. In this classic film, the main character, George Bailey, discovers the positive impact that one life can have on many others, even with little or no fanfare.

According to preliminary estimates by the Idaho Transportation Department, there were 277 people killed in Idaho traffic crashes last year, the most in a year since 2003. That means that 277 families, friendship circles and communities are coping with a recent and unspeakable loss. With the number of Idaho traffic deaths at a 20-year high, we must work together to turn the tide.

Each year, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety publishes findings from its Traffic Safety Culture Index to spotlight driver attitudes about risky behavior on the roads. This year, the Foundation also categorized drivers based on their self-reported activities behind the wheel.

Unfortunately, just four in 10 drivers from the survey fell into the “Safe Drivers” category. For others, excessive speed, distraction, following too closely and impairment created an elevated level of risk, both for themselves and for other road users — passengers, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and pedestrians.  Like George Bailey, one person’s actions can have a profound effect on many.

We urge drivers to make decisions that securely position them in the “Safe Drivers” category. Please watch your speed, ditch the distractions, and focus on safely reaching your destination. During times of inclement weather, your decisions are more important than ever.

When a crash occurs, the outcome is decided in a matter of seconds. In fact, three collisions are possible: the vehicle strikes or is struck by another object, people collide with a part of the vehicle, and internal organs and systems are jolted. In an emergency, the time for preparation has passed.

Like so much in the realm of safety, being proactive is key. Seat belts can substantially reduce the risk of death and serious injury during a crash, helping prevent ejection from a vehicle and mitigating damage to the head, neck and back. In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that if everyone who died in a vehicle crash had been wearing a seat belt, half of them may have been saved. Like hearing and eye protection, seat belts need to be worn consistently to be most effective.

Admittedly, guilt is not the best motivator for lasting change, but love is a very different story. Please consider how your absence could affect the lives of your friends and loved ones. You may be surprised to learn how consequential your driving decisions really are to a great many people.

Safe driving may not be particularly flashy, but it can be an important part of a wonderful life.

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Matthew Conde is the public and government affairs director for AAA Idaho.