Accidents starting to add up

Published 12:00 am Monday, October 24, 2005

Sirens blared Thursday morning, our scanners crackled to life, and around the office, we all had the same thought: Surely, surely, not again.

“It can’t be another one in front of Hardee’s,” someone said. “We’ve had enough there for the rest of the year.”

Unlike Wednesday’s accident, Thursday’s wasn’t at the intersection of Highway 80 and Walnut. But it was in Demopolis, just a little ways further up the road. And the fact that we can even start referring to area accidents as “Wednesday’s” and “Thursday’s” should be indication enough: our roads should be safer.

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Because there weren’t just accidents on Wednesday and Thursday, there were several over the weekend; a fatal accident in north Hale County; and of course, just two weekends ago, the wreck that sent West Alabama Preparatory student Whitney Martin into the hospital. And all of it without a drop of rain. What on earth is going on here?

Some of it is plain dumb luck. A certain number of accidents are just going to happen, and that a large number of that certain number have happened recently could very well just be a statistical quirk.

But that doesn’t mean the problem should just be ignored. When we’re talking about an issue of public safety–an issue of what, on any given afternoon, could very well be an issue of life and death–a rash of accidents like the one our area has seen over the past two weeks must be taken seriously.

So are the wrecks more than what the airplane industry would call “pilot error”? Maybe. In June of 2003, plans were made with the Alabama Department of Transportation to improve and make safer the awkward intersection of Walnut St. and 80 West. The plans included a right turn lane from Walnut south onto 80. In April of 2004 the Times reported that those plans had been delayed, and apparently, they’ve been delayed for another year-plus. If these plans still exist and would make that intersection safer, it’s time for government officials (on every level involved) to find a way to put them into practice.

There may be other ways to make driving in Demopolis safer. A recent column on this editorial page has suggested fewer medians and more turn lanes on Highway 80. Maybe the area’s major highways should be patrolled–and speeding enforced–more closely. Several of the area’s road signs and stop signs could be more visible.

I’ll be honest: I don’t know how many, if any, of these ideas are practical or feasible. But if there is an answer to why our roads have suddenly become so dangerous, it must be found and it must be made reality as soon as possible.

Of course, drivers have to do their part too. We have to slow down (yours truly certainly included) and quit driving like a stoplight will surely be green if we hit it going 60 miles an hour. We have to take stop signs and turn indicators and “Curve ahead” signs seriously. We have to keep our blood pressure down when cut off and put down the cell phone in traffic and, of course, pay extremely close attention when the brain tells us “After that last drink, I wouldn’t trust us to drive a Big Wheel. Time to call a cab.”

I arrived at the paper in January, and there hasn’t been a week for accidents anything like this one during my tenure here. If we all work together, hopefully it will be the last one seen during anyone’s tenure, ever.