Sheriff: Distractions are factor in fatal mishaps
by GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer
Dec 23, 2012 | 681 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
“We can warn our local people of where dangerous spots for driving are, but we can’t those who travel through Bradley County on the Interstate. The best thing to happen in a long time is the placement of TDOT message boards,” said Capt. W.G. Campbell, speaking of the high rate of traffic fatalities this year in Bradley County. Twenty-three people have died this year in Bradley County. In 2002, 23 people died and then Sheriff Dan Gilley established a special unit to provide public safety and education for drivers.

I-75 in Bradley County stretches for nearly 30 miles and the state’s message boards remind drivers how many fatalities have occurred daily. Several deaths due to traffic crashes occur on I-75 each year.

The dynamics have changed recently and officials with the Bradley County Sheriff’s Office and Tennessee Highway Patrol have recognized where and possible causes which are being reflected in up-to-date data.

“Driving is a divided attention. A driver has to continually scan the roadway in front, sides and rear to safely operate a vehicle.

Anything which takes that attention away is a distraction and we have many distractions for today’s drivers,” Campbell said.

Campbell is the captain over Bradley County Sheriff’s Office Special Operations which includes the BCSO Traffic Unit.

Since the unit was established in 2003, fatalities fell to 11 in 2011, but a spike this year has shown significant changes in the cause of crashes as well as attributing to the rise in crash rates, injury and fatality count.

Alcohol was a factor 10 years ago, but now driver inattention has been remarkably higher and a cause found recently.

Distracted drivers who may be using cell phones for talking or texting, changing radio stations, eating... a variety of distractions can be noted, according to Campbell. Recently when Bradley County had only 19 fatalities listed, Campbell reviewed the causes. He found only one fatal crash could be attributed to alcohol use this year, three have been determined due to speeding and as some cases are still under investigation, driver inattention is the changed dynamic.

Lt. Daniel Ruskey of THP said the Department of Safety reviews areas of high incidence each month to determine where safety checkpoints are to be scheduled.

“We collect information for a targeted response to address concerns regarding areas of high incident rates,” Ruskey said.

Troopers also watch school zones closely.

A number of crashes involving buses have been reported this year.

“We need to do the things we do to save lives,” Ruskey said.

Driver education has also played a role for THP and BCSO as well as Cleveland and Charleston Police Departments.

“Vehicle traffic increases, fatalities and life-changing traffic crashes also increase,” Ruskey explained.

“Fuel prices being lowered and moderate weather are also reasons we are seeing an increase in traffic counts.”

Add a holiday season such as Thanksgiving and Christmas where travellers take to the roadways and interstate system, plus the many distractions of driving and the result is more traffic crashes, some which can be deadly.

Nearly 1,000 people have died on Tennessee’s roadways this year.

Ruskey and Campbell said a shift of the distraction dynamic as well as where crashes occurred have been noted.

Eight people have died on city streets this year.

“We are seeing the trend shift from most fatal crashes occurring in rural areas to a high occurrence happening in the urban areas this year,” Ruskey said.

Seat belt usage is not an element in causing crashes, but it is an element in saving lives.

“We have zero-tolerance for those drivers and passengers who are not wearing their seat belts,” Ruskey said.

Aggressive DUI enforcement has shown an increase in removing drunk drivers from Tennessee roadways this year.

Ruskey said DUI arrests are up 42 percent statewide.

“If drivers are not already distracted enough, add alcohol to the equation. Can you imagine a drunk driver texting or talking on a cell phone, messing with a radio, eating or doing something else? “Ultimately, the safety of a driver and his passengers falls to the driver. The driver is in control of the car, the distractions and making sure his passengers are properly restrained,” Campbell said.

“Pay attention. Our deputies are going to be vigilant and not many warnings will be issued. They will be writing citations and making arrests if needed. Bradley County has lost too many people due to these factors. We have provided education and plenty of warning through our Lifesaver campaign which was started last year,” Campbell said.

Both Ruskey and Campbell agreed that drivers do not need to have any type of distraction which would take their attention away from the roadway.

“People always seem to be in a hurry. Slow down and make sure you leave with enough time to arrive at your destination safely,” Ruskey said.

“Remember, ultimately ...you the driver, are responsible for your own safety as well as all others in your car, truck or on the roadways,” he said.