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Bob Kellar: Drive safely this holiday season

Live from City Hall

Posted: December 26, 2009 7:14 p.m.
Updated: December 27, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Between drunk — or impaired — driving and distracted driving such as with cell phones and texting, there is no shortage of traffic collisions on our freeways and roadways. And yes, buzzed driving is drunk driving, so don’t go there.

The good news is that overall in this country, the number of traffic fatalities reported in 2008 was at the lowest level since 1961.

There was a 9.7 percent decline in the number of fatalities in motor vehicle crashes in the United States — from 41,259 in 2007 to 37,261 in 2008. This decline is the largest annual reduction in terms of both number and percentage since 1982.

There was a 9.7 percent decline in drunk-driving fatalities during this period as well, according to the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  

On the teen front, the number of fatalities in teenage drunk-driving crashes has declined 34 percent since 2000, and is down 73 percent since tracking began in 1982 — going from 4,214 in 1982 to 1,720 in 2000 and 1,130 in 2008, a record-low level.

There were more than 3,000 fewer teen drunk-driving fatalities in this country in 2008 than in 1982. It sounds like the message has been received. That is good news.

Now for the bad news. Distracted driving, including the use of cell phones, is a major contributor to automobile crashes in this country today.

According to the Automobile Club of Southern California, between 4,000 and 8,000 crashes related to distracted driving occur daily in the United States. In a year, they contribute to as many as one-half of the 6 million U.S. crashes reported annually.

Driver distractions are nothing new. By using a cell phone while driving, you are increasing your chances of being involved in a car crash. California is one of 19 states that bans text-messaging while driving and requires the use of a hands-free device to talk on the phone while driving.

It isn’t just teens who practice distracted driving, but one in four (26 percent) of American teens of driving age say they have text-messaged while driving, and 48 percent of all teens ages 12 to 17 say they’ve been a passenger while a driver has text-messaged behind the wheel.

In Santa Clarita, as in many communities, we put a high premium on keeping our young people safe. So much so that at Saugus’ Central Park, the Youth Grove (www.santa-clarita.com/youthgrove) was created as a learning tool and a constant reminder to young drivers and those about to get behind the wheel for the first time that tragedy can happen and to be ever-vigilant.  

The Santa Clarita Youth Grove is a grassroots effort supported by the city of Santa Clarita and the Blue Ribbon Task Force. It is dedicated to Santa Clarita youth (24 years old and younger) who have died in traffic-related incidents and provides a safe, centralized location for young people and community members to remember these youth.

The Youth Grove is for the Santa Clarita community — particularly our youth — to use and to reflect upon the unfortunate consequences of drinking and driving, and of reckless driving.

The city and the Blue Ribbon Task Force hope through this graphic and powerful reminder our citizens will vow to be more mindful and responsible when getting behind the wheel.

Whether you are a new driver or a seasoned one, the city would like to strongly remind you that getting behind the wheel is serious business.  Driving drunk, impaired or distracted absolutely takes away your ability to focus completely on the 7,000-pound weapon you are steering down the street.

Please remember to be focused on the road while you are driving and to encourage those driving you to do the same.

This way, you’ll have plenty of time to text-message and to celebrate.

Bob Kellar is a member of the Santa Clarita City Council. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. “Live from City Hall” is provided by the city to The Signal.

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