An unusual title for sure, but this particular title makes a point without making a sharp point. If I had titled the letter “distractive driving,” the result would be less people reading it. I did consider the title “destructive driving,” but immediately felt that was way too intense and subject to undue criticism from the general public at large. So my real point of departure is to communicate to others as effectively as possible. Now this is not the first letter to the editor regarding driving conditions around town. Some have broached the public, almost begging for people to wake up. I even remember Mayor Pike chiming in on this issue once upon a time in a bicycle-related article. I can’t remember his exact quote, but it was to the same effect, that driving is a little absurd around these parts. (By the way, congrats to Mayor Pike on winning the recent election.) So here’s my take.
As a former safety director back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, I kind of have a unique insight. I have investigated accidents and did safety training and other related things. This was in the context of commercial truck drivers, and I have experienced the worst of the worst in my own life regarding auto accidents that I was involved in directly.
If you go up to Red Cliffs drive (the local autobahn) and watch the cars whiz by, you can count the number of people driving while actively using their cell phones. This does not include individuals that would be on a Bluetooth speaker, of course, as that goes under the radar for such a survey as this. For sure, 40 percent of the vehicles, without a doubt whatsoever, will contain operators actively using their cell phones while driving. Sometimes, 50 percent appears to be more likely the official stat, but based on 100 vehicles, you can always bank on the fact that 4 out of 10 drivers are on cell phones. So what, right? Is it not the norm? Yes, absolutely, I confer and agree, whole-heartedly.
Now, let’s move to another distraction. We have great radio stations in this town. I have noticed a connection between intense driving, i.e. speeding, when certain songs come on the radio. Yup, certainly those radical DJs are the culprits. I am not joking. Not sure about the country stations, but certainly the rock and roll stations are to blame for this.
What else? Ok, here’s another: televised BYU football games. Yup, and I cannot be sure about the Utes, (likely suspects no doubt), but BYU football and I believe basketball as well really bring the craziness level on the roads up a notch just prior to the games airing. Once again, I am not kidding, but I hope you see the humor in all of this.
Then there is Sunday morning, usually between 11 am and noon when church is getting out — not pointing fingers, but there are lots of LDS wards around town, and I am not sure of the cause, if it is to catch the NFL games (likely not these days) or simply to go have lunch. I am sure the local Mormons know the answer, but don’t be caught skateboarding on residential streets at that particular time of day. Gets gnarly, if you get my drift.
Now, I hope at least a few of you are chuckling right now, but in all seriousness, people do get in accidents, injuries occur, and even death may happen in the worst case. I did browse the accident statistics on utah.gov, etc., but they really do not tell the story. Simply the best way to get a grip on what is happening on our local roads is to peruse the St. George news every day and see what accidents have occurred and look at the pictures.
I am sure not every accident in this town is in the news. It is amazing how many accidents truly occur week in and week out, and some of them are tragic. One particular case was a guy who wiped out on his motorbike and then while on the ground was subsequently run over and killed. How do people roll over cars three streets down from my house in Santa Clara? That one was truly bizarre to me as well, but I did broach my city with a safety initiative at a local council meeting, only to get no further feedback (my guess is it’s in a drawer of a metal cabinet).
There is a cult of commentators that post opinions regarding some of the bizarre traffic incidents in the St. George news. Their comments, often wry and sometimes serious, seem to tell a story that maybe only a few realize or know about. My guess is that local police have seen everything. They must be numb by now. Some of the incidents are so bizarre that only an episode of the Twilight Zone would do them justice.
So here are my top ten reasons why I think driving is crazy in this town, in no particular order.
But before I present that list, I have to mention one thing. Who internationally knows us southern Utahans the best? Well, it is those snowbirds from Canada. So last year when I was in Canada and happened to be on the train in Calgary going to the famous Stampede, I was being my friendly talkative self and mentioned I was from southern Utah. Next thing I knew, I was being asked the question, why are we such crazy drivers in Utah? So our reputation does get around, but my guess is that only the Canadians know our ways:
—Driving distracted on cell phones, especially teenagers, new drivers, and moms with 3+ kids screaming in the back of the van.
—Rural drivers (illegal left turns when a traffic light turns green at an intersection before opposite traffic moves) tend to not conform to urban driving rules.
—College and high school drivers, i.e. inexperienced drivers new to the road (Friday night from 6 to 8 p.m., they come out in droves — we gonna paaaarty!).
—To old to drive. I have seen this before. Some folks are way to old to drive safely anymore, and immediate family cannot take the keys away. I have to mention this, old folks. I hope you understand — I will admit there are some damn good elderly drivers in this town for sure — that it’s just a reality of the years taking their toll.
—Foreign drivers, i.e. non-American born, could be visitors from out of town going to Zion or simply recent immigrants used to driving in their country of origin with different rules and norms. Try going to Thailand and renting a car as an American as an example. Not a good idea. I used Thais simply as an example only; please avoid political correctness syndrome.
—Contractors, etc., who are multitasking on many different levels in order to service customers and always in a super hurry. Not blaming anyone here, it is business, but it is truly part of the equation, and lots of them are on the road.
—This one is hard to say, but lots of folks are on various pharmaceuticals, legal and illegal, as well as marijuana sourced from the state next door. Fact of life.
—Not as major a factor as you would think but super dangerous and lethal are people driving intoxicated on alcohol.
—The top ten bullies. If you go to Washington County’s booking website and look at the mug shots, imagine the worst-looking inmates driving a vehicle. Yes, some people are just not nice, and they use their vehicles to assault others for no particular reason. Ever been tailgated at 70 mph on I-15 after you change lanes to get off the freeway and away from somebody like this? So I guess we would call this the criminal element. On average, I figure we have 10 people that do this around town at any given time.
—Emotionally distracted drivers. It could be death in the family, divorce, a fight with a boyfriend or girlfriend, or a domestic dispute. This is often forgotten, but it is a factor.
For those new to the town, you have to remember that Utah is less risk-averse then most places. People here drive razors and dirt bikes in the desert, and essentially going through stop signs, driving over the center line, incorporating bike lanes, or just plain driving fast is part of the culture. You have to adapt. That is the simple truth.
The ultimate danger is distractive driving, i.e. driving while on a cell phone and having a 30-oz. drink from Maverick in the other hand. So here are a few tips to help negotiate the cultural paradigm:
—Park on the outskirts of the parking lots. Get exercise and walk a little further.
—Always assume you will be cut off when backing up, whether it is your own driveway, a parking place, or even sometimes in a remote location.
—Keep distance, do not tailgate. Have a safe braking distance, and even change lanes to avoid the crazy drivers. Driving defensively should be your daily mantra.
—Get a dash cam. Yep. The best defense is a good offense. Also, a word of advice — never admit fault in an accident. Hold your tongue, because you could be wrong about your assumption. Take pictures before vehicles are separated.
—Distracted driving while on a cell phone is traceable to the exact moment of the accident. So always record and document the time of the accident, and if it goes to court you can subpoena cell phone records and enjoy a healthy compensation for you and your lawyer to pay for your grief, auto damage, and hospital bills.
—Have a designated law firm. You do not need a retainer, just know who to call when and if an accident occurs. There are lots of law firms to choose from around town, so this is easy to set up.
—You can always pull over in residential areas and let a person pass. Sometimes you will be teased or even intimidated for doing this, but overall, most Utahans will respect your wishes as they do want to get by you and move along to their destination.
—Avoid congested routes. There are many ways to get around, and this is truly a small town if you think about it. People get tunnel vision around here as if the distances are far, etc., but overall, everything is fairly close.
—Avoid road rage. I know it is hard to do around here, but surrender if you meet one of the 10 bullies on the list above. Maybe get a license plate. It is not worth it to fight back.
—Unless you are age 18–28, early Friday evening is a good time to be off the road sitting at home, in a movie theater, etc.
Okay, I hope you all had fun reading this. If it prevents one death or one injury or helps others adapt, then it was worth the effort. I am practicing to be a comedian, so I hope it wasn’t too dry. Let’s face it, the best comedy is taking a serious thing and making it palatable. God bless. Drive safely, and as the Boy Scout motto goes, be prepared.
Jerold J Nodvik, Santa Clara
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