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Wyatt Emmerich: Towards safer streets


Wyatt Emmerich



As fall approaches, the days get shorter with increasing rapidity. By Nov. 5, daylight savings time ends and it will be dark by 6 p.m. If you like to go on walks after work, it's time to purchase your reflective vests, if you have not already done so. 


I live in Leftover (now called Loho). Street lamps are few and far between. On numerous occasions while driving at night, I have suddenly come upon pedestrians walking in the middle of the street, oblivious to their invisibility. It is a terrifying experience.  


I want to roll down my window and shout out: "You are completely invisible. A $10 reflective vest can save your life."  


I find that young people are the least likely to be wearing reflective clothing. Perhaps being young, they don't realize that night vision declines with age. There are plenty of older drivers who simply cannot see a pedestrian walking down the road without reflective gear. 


In 2015, 5,376 pedestrians and 818 bicyclists were killed in crashes with motor vehicles, accounting for 17.7 percent of the 35,092 total U.S. traffic fatalities that year. Another 115,000 were injured. The cost of these deaths and injuries are $5.5 billion every year. Those are huge numbers. 


I find it amazing how people are petrified over terrorist attacks, yet don't bother to wear reflective gear at night. Your odds of getting injured at night walking down a neighborhood street are thousands of times greater than getting injured by a terrorist. 


The declining popularity of sidewalks hasn't helped matters. In Jackson, sidewalks are few and far between, further endangering pedestrians. 


Some other trends aren't helping matters. People are exercising more. That's a good thing. But as more people get out and walk, we need to encourage greater safety. 


Another problem: At least half the pedestrians in my neighborhood are listening to music with headphones or talking on the phone with some sort of listening device. That reduces the chance of hearing oncoming traffic. 


Walking down the road at night listening to music without any reflective gear makes you a sitting duck. Is the minor inconvenience of putting on a lightweight vest worth death or being permanently maimed? 


When you have a reflective product, you can be seen from low beam headlights at 125 yards. That's plenty of time for drivers to respond. 


The flip side of the problem is drivers going too fast in neighborhoods or talking and texting on their smartphones. It amazes me to watch people texting, talking on their phones, speeding, tailgating and even putting on make-up while speeding down the road directing a multi-ton vehicle. 


I do not speed. It's just not worth it. Why would anyone want to risk their lives just to get somewhere a few minutes earlier? Yet I watch in dismay as a passenger when my friends speed routinely. We have developed a culture where speeding is considered normal. 


Impact energy is the square of velocity. To put that in plain language, you will walk away from a crash at 65 miles an hour. You will die in a crash at 85 miles an hour. 


As my family screams at me to speed up on family road trips, I repeat these statistics again and again, ending with a statement such as, "I am not going to risk the lives of my family, whom I love dearly, to get to The Grove 30 minutes sooner. 


On my commute back and forth to work, there are several yield signs. As I wait for yielding traffic to pass, I am dismayed that about half the drivers have a phone glued to their ear as they negotiate busy intersections. Really? 


Call me when I'm driving. You will not get an answer. It's just not important enough to answer the call. We all have caller ID. Just call back when you are done driving. How hard is that to do? 


This is where common sense is required. If you must talk on the phone while driving, get a hands-free device and wait until you are out of stop-and-start traffic. 


Another piece of advice: Do you have a teen driver? Make sure they drive a car with electronic stabilization control (ESC.) Most cars newer than 2010 have this feature. It monitors how fast each wheel is turning and automatically brakes a wheel that is turning too fast. It is as important as safety belts, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and keeps the car from running off the road, especially in wet conditions. 


We can do better. We learned to wear seatbelts and use car seats for babies. We can learn to adopt these other safety features. 


Wyatt Emmerich is the editor and publisher of The Northside Sun, a weekly newspaper in Jackson. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]



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