Will it take a tragedy to get Logan's drivers to stop at red lights?
By Dan Chase
Logan needs to put its foot down.
At least its drivers do, in a literal sense, on their brakes.
You've heard the phrase: "If I had a nickel every time . . ."
Well, if I had a nickel every time someone ran a red light in Logan, I'd be a millionaire.
I remember back in the time of onions when I enrolled in driver's education at Sky View High School. I can't say I can recall how close to a fire hydrant you may park your vehicle or how many tickets it takes to have your license revoked, but I do remember that when a light is yellow, it means SLOW DOWN.
And unfortunately, it usually takes a tragedy for some drivers to get this simple principle engraved in their heads.
Such is the case of 37-year-old Richard Thomas of Los Angeles, Calif.
According to a Dec. 6, 1997, report by the Omaha World-Herald, Thomas ran a red light Nov. 1 and broadsided a 1990 Geo Prizm, killing 17-year-old Peter Larson of Ralston, Neb.
Larson was traveling to work at Grandmother's Restaurant when the accident occurred.
After pleading no contest one month later to misdemeanor motor vehicle homicide, Thomas met Larson's father outside the courtroom of Douglas County Court. Larson, the minister of First Covenant Church, welcomed an embrace by an emotional Thomas, who cried and offered his apologies.
In addition, Thomas' attorney, James Schaeffer, told the Omaha World-Herald that the apologies were sincere.
"(Thomas) has spent countless days and nights trying to understand what happened and why it happened," Schaeffer said. "He doesn't have any answers. He's just devastated by this whole thing. It's a sad, sad story."
Having passed the two-year anniversary of the accident, Thomas should have completed his sentence, as prosecutors were looking at a year's penalty. And while I don't know what kind of punishment he received, you can bet your life he's slowing down when he sees yellow.
Could an accident like Thomas' become a reality here in Happy Valley?
Sure, you bet it could. In fact, I'm waiting for it. Its bound to happen soon, especially the way people -- um, er, idiots -- drive around here.
And it doesn't take a bunch of statistics to show that people are seriously injured or killed everyday because drivers are running red lights.
But just in case you need me to prove it to you, I will.
According to the Dayton Daily News, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety reported that the number of fatalities stemming from drivers who run red lights is up 15 percent, from 702 in 1992 to 809 in 1996.
In addition, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that from 1993 to 1995, Milwaukee saw a 54-percent rise in crashes involving red light violators.
The rise prompted the Milwaukee Safety Commission to install cameras at intersections to stop violators.
"The cameras, mounted on posts and triggered by detectors in the pavement, take a still photo of the back of a car entering an intersection after the light turns red," reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Police then review the photos and mail tickets to the car owners."
And just how effective is this practice?
Well, after a 6 percent rise in accidents each year for six years straight, Scottsdale, Ariz., recorded a four percent decline after the city installed cameras in 1997. And Oxnard, Calif., recorded a 42 percent decline.
Sounds like it could do a lot of good. Even here in Happy Valley.
So, what is it about a measly 45-second wait at an intersection that irritates drivers?
Honestly, I don't know.
I mean, it's not likely that your bishop is going to excommunicate you if you're late for church. Nor is it likely that you're going to fail a class because you arrive late on exam day. And I can assure you that your boss is not going to fire you if you're late for work. Then again, maybe he will. But what situation would you rather be in: unemployed or incarcerated for killing an innocent child?
I'm going to assume your intellect and choose the former.
But running red lights isn't the only thing that ticks me off.
Tailgating, freeway driving and courtesy in general also make me upset.
And that's why I want to be a cop.
I'd be ruthless. I have absolutely no tolerance when it comes to careless driving.
The other day I was returning home after taking my wife to work, and a car, chuck full of high school kids, was following me. After the driver figured out I was keeping the speed limit and obeying the law, he thought I'd maybe speed up if he tailgated me. Wrong.
Because I absolutely despise moronic drivers who ride my bumper, I slowed down. I could notice that he was more than irritated with me because he was looking for a way to pass me in the middle of a residential neighborhood! When he finally arrived at the intersection where he needed to turn, I checked my rear-view mirror. I knew that he had floored the gas pedal as he turned left because 1) the smell of burning rubber accompanied me the rest of the way home and 2) the passengers in the back seat were in each others' laps, with their faces squashed against the right-side windows. I'm pretty sure he wasn't happy with me, but I sure got a laugh out of it.
Freeway driving is just as bad. In addition to tailgating, I often see cars cruising through 55 mph construction areas, zipping by me at 75 mph. It's all fun and games at the time, but it's not so funny when you mangle or kill yourself in an accident and become the lead story for Real TV or one of those driver's education "spaghetti movies." You know the blood-and-guts movies they showed you to get it through your thick skull that careless driving is just plain stupid. But it doesn't seem like the movies did a lot of good there are still a lot of drivers on the streets who shouldn't be.
And what about courtesy? If visitors to our beloved Beehive State were stopped and asked to rate Utah drivers' courtesy on a 1-10 scale, my guess is that their comments would be something to the effect of: "What courtesy? I didn't think they had any."
Well, I've blown off my steam long enough. Just remember: when your guilt for taking little Timmy's life is unbearable, don't think I didn't warn you.