As anyone traversing the main thoroughfares of western Nevada County this week now knows, ongoing construction projects are posing a path that is potentially perilous without those behind the wheel showing some patience, common sense and a real regard for others on the road.
On a typical early evening this week all along the Golden Center Freeway, drivers came across lanes that were narrowed, without shoulders or closed altogether as heavy equipment chewed up the old or smoothed out the new, hot asphalt. From Uren Street to Gold Flat Road in Nevada City, from Brunswick Road to Empire Street in Grass Valley and from La Barr Meadows Road to Alta Sierra Drive toward South County, motorists have been maneuvering through a maddening maze of roadwork.
Unfortunately, we haven’t all done so in a safe manner.
“There has definitely been a slight increase of accidents in construction areas in both daytime and nighttime,” California Highway Patrol Officer Greg Tassone said this week. “We know that happens anytime there is a change in a roadway. We know that this is going to happen, often because people are looking at what’s going on over on the other side of the wall.”
We also know that there are plenty of other contributing factors to such crashes in construction areas, made clear in a wreck that resulted in five people being arrested for driving under the influence within a 54-minute period one week ago tonight near construction work at the Gold Flat Road off-ramp. An initial collision not only sparked somewhat of a chain reaction of arrests at the site but also ensuing accidents, including one which Tassone said came extremely close to causing an awful ending to an already alarming evening.
The driver reportedly “blew right through a barricade and drove through new asphalt,” Tassone said. “That one was really a close call, coming within feet of a couple of people already arrested who were standing there, along with a few officers and construction workers. They were all diving in every direction to get out of the way.”
CHP Officer Justin Barnthouse told The Union it is estimated that after midnight on the weekend, two out of five vehicles on the road are being operated by impaired individuals. As startling as that statistic might be, one has to wonder how many of the other three are “distracted drivers” — either texting, using a cellphone, eating or drinking, holding a dog, reading a map, using a navigation system or any other behaviors outlined at http://distraction.gov, an official U.S. government website for distracted driving.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,331 people were killed in crashes involving a distracted driver with an additional 387,000 injured in 2011. The CDC estimates that each day more than nine people on average are killed and 1,060 people are injured in crashes reported to involve a distracted driver.
The CDC also reports 10,228 people were killed in 2010 in alcohol-related crashes — or an average of 30 each day — while other drugs were involved in 18 percent of all motor vehicle driver deaths.
The U.S. Department of Transportation reported there were 87,606 crashes in work zones in 2010, and although less than one percent were fatal accidents, there were 576 people killed in such wrecks, with 106 victims being construction workers.
Though statistics on aggressive driving — speeding or driving too fast for conditions, improper lane changing, tailgating and improper passing — are not as readily available, a 2009 study by AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety reported that 56 percent of fatal crashes between 2003 and 2007 involved such driving behavior.
As highway construction continues throughout western Nevada County in the coming weeks — including an upcoming closure of the Golden Center Freeway Aug. 12-15 for nighttime work on the Dorsey Drive Interchange — it’s important to note the vast majority of the contributing factors to car crashes are completely within our control.
Don’t drink, or use and drive. Set the cell phone aside. Put the pup in the back seat. Slow down and pay attention.
Quite frankly, use your head and give us all a “brake.”
This editorial represents the views of The Union editorial board, which is comprised of members of The Union staff and informed members of the community.