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Harris Blackwood: Avoid distractions and use your seat belt
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I try not to use this space in connection with my real job. I am much more content to offer my take on everyday things, seasoned with a little spice of life.

I’m breaking that rule, but only because I care about you, my readers.

We have an epidemic of traffic fatalities in our country. Georgia is losing one person on the roads about every 6 hours and 15 minutes. Our fatality count is setting us back to levels not seen since 2007.

What’s the problem? Distraction, primarily from motorists who are texting while driving.

Impaired driving, whether from drugs or alcohol, accounts for about 1 in 4 Georgia traffic deaths.

We can measure this with accuracy. Whether someone is dead or alive, a blood test can be administered to determine the level of drugs or alcohol.

Distraction is a bit more difficult. When someone is engaged in texting and a crash occurs, the phone may go flying through or even out of the car. And when first responders arrive, their priority is to get the person out of the crash and into an ambulance.

We don’t have a test for distraction. However, our data shows an increasing number of crashes where there is a lane departure, a vehicle strikes an object or a driver leaves the roadway and then overcorrects. These are all symptomatic of distracted driving.

You may notice I use the term crashes. Almost all of the roadway collisions are avoidable. They are not caused by accidents.

I’m asking, no, I’m almost begging for your help.

First of all, do the simplest thing and buckle your seat belt. If you have some phobia about being trapped in a seat belt, that’s nonsense. You have a 99 percent better chance of surviving a crash if you are properly buckled.

Second, ensure children younger than the age of 8 are in a proper child passenger safety seat.

Sometimes, people ask me why we keep children in a booster seat until age 8. A standard seat belt is designed for someone 4 feet 9 inches tall or taller. The booster seat raises a child higher and makes the seat belt cross their body at the hip, where you have the strongest bones in your body.

Third, a child needs to be in the back seat. If an airbag deploys in the front with a child in the seat, it can injure or kill them.

By the way, if you’re an adult, don’t ride with your feet propped on the dashboard. There have been cases where people have been killed when an airbag deployed and sent their knees crushing into their face or upper torso.

Fourth, put down the phone.

We made it for years without electronic communications while driving. If you can’t manage your addiction to texting, put the phone in the backseat, trunk or glove compartment.

Finally, tor goodness sake, don’t drive while under the influence or drugs or alcohol. Drugged driving is become more of a problem, and this includes prescription drugs. If you’re taking medicine and a yellow label says don’t drive or operate heavy machinery when taking this medication, this really means you.

Every morning, I get an emailed report of everyone who has died in motor vehicle crashes in the past few days. I see the names of people who are in their 20s, 30s or 40s, with so much to live for.

I am pleading with you to make certain you are buckled, sober, alert and prepared every time you get behind the wheel. There are people who care for you and want you to come home safely. I’m just one of them.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on