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  • Greg Zyla: The Saga of Young Joe

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  • With more drivers on the road this 2012 holiday season than ever before, it’s time for our yearly column on the dangers of drinking and driving and using your cellphone while behind the wheel.
    This is the story of young Joe, a fun loving 21-year-old who is full of life, has lots of friends and is a good person. He also has a great collector car, a 1970 Challenger 440 Six Pack that he loves to drive.
    Joe could be your friend, son, sibling, parent or your husband. He’s having a great time at a holiday party, joining in on all the fun. He’s overdone the eating and drinking, something many of us do each year.
    Now it’s 1 a.m., and time to head home. Joe knows he’s had one too many of the alcoholic drinks, but doesn’t feel it will impair his driving abilities. Thank goodness he’s alone in his Challenger.
    Joe isn’t aware that on this night, he’ll become one of the 32,367 drivers that died in car accidents in 2011. Even though these numbers are the lowest since 1949, he’ll add to the statistic that involves alcohol related deaths and also join a new measure of fatalities related to distracted driving (cell phone, texting, etc.). Further, his death will be recorded in the 25-percent statistic group of impaired driving fatalities that occur between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.
    The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), unveiled its new “distraction-affected crashes” recently and the data is not good.
    Fatalities in distraction-affected crashes increased by 1.9 percent (3,267 fatalities in 2010 to 3,331 fatalities in 2011), with this new measure focusing on crashes in which a driver is most likely distracted. While NHTSA’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) previously recorded a broad range of potential distractions, such as cell phones, the new measure focuses on distractions that are most likely to affect crash involvement, such as dialing a cellular phone or texting. Joe will also be one of these “distracted-affected” casualties.
    “In the past several decades, we’ve seen remarkable improvements in both the way motorists behave on our roadways and in the safety of the vehicles they drive, and we’re confident that NHTSA’s 5-Star Safety Ratings Program and nationwide collaborations like ‘Click It or Ticket’ and ‘Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over’ have played a key role in making our roads safer,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “Even as we celebrate the progress we’ve made in recent years, we must remain focused on addressing the safety issues that are continuing to claim more than 30,000 lives each year.”
    NHTSA information indicates that driver distraction continues to be a significant problem. Given the difficulty of proof and a driver’s reluctance to admit, lack of witnesses, or death of the driver—NHTSA believes the actual number of distracted crashes could be much higher than the estimated 387,000 people injured in distraction-affected crashes in 2011.
    Page 2 of 3 - Back to Joe.
    Joe is not aware he is speeding at 65-mph, and approaching a curve in the highway that should be taken at 35 mph. His reactions, meanwhile, have been slowed by the alcohol drinks. Next, his cell phone rings and he’s distracted. He “misses the curve” by a bit, and to make matters worse, he was also on his cell when he got into his car, forgetting to buckle his seatbelt. Before Joe even knows what is happening, his car is off the dark country road and headed directly toward a huge tree. His 1970 Challenger does not have airbags.
    There is no correcting. Joe’s car hits the tree with a resounding crunch.
    At 1/10th of a second, the car’s front bumper and grillwork collapse.
    At 2/10ths of a second, the hood crumbles, rises, and smashes into the windshield. The grillwork now disintegrates.
    At 3/10ths of a second Joe is sprung upright from his seat. His legs are immediately broken, and his knees crash against the dashboard. The steering wheel bends under his grip.
    At 4/10ths of a second, the front of the car is completely destroyed and is now dead still. However, the rear end of the car is still traveling at 55-MPH, and the 850-pound engine and accessories are crunched into the tree.
    At 5/10ths of a second, the impact rips Joe’s shoes clean off his feet. The chassis bends in the middle, and Joe’s head is slammed into the windshield. The car’s rear-end begins its downward fall as its spinning wheels churn into the ground.
    At 6/10ths of a second, the entire body of the car is twisted out of shape. The front seat continues to ram forward.
    At 7/10ths of a second, Joe’s chest is pinned against the steering wheel shaft. His internal organs crash against his rib cage.
    At 8/10ths of a second, Joe is dead. He’s now a statistic.
    It’s not just young drivers like Joe who die on our nation’s highways. Many adult drivers become statistics from mistakes behind the wheel. Of these accidents, many are alcohol, distracted or a combination of both, like the late Joe.
    Please plan your travel carefully this holiday season, and never be in a hurry. If the roads turn nasty, pull off safely at a roadside rest or stop and have a coffee at a restaurant. And forget using your cell while driving as your passengers can handle that.
    Finally, if you must stop to rest, never pull off and park on the side of a road---it’s dangerous sitting there as the percentage of being struck by an oncoming vehicle rises greatly.
    Keep in mind that more deaths per mile traveled will occur during holiday season. Have a safe 2012 Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, etc., and have a fun, safe New Year’s Eve.
    Page 3 of 3 - Greg Zyla writes weekly for GateHouse Media and welcomes reader comments at greg@gregzyla.com or at 303 Roosevelt St., Sayre, PA 18840.

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