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Tim Blagg

Blagg: Drivers: Be on the lookout

It’s summer and the schools are out.

That means a host of good things: the laughter of children playing outdoors (and not inside with a computer!), boating, fishing, tennis and golf and a whole host of outdoor activities.

But it also means increased danger.

I’m talking about simply driving around ... it’s become more dangerous because there are bound to be more chances for tragedy.

Every side street, every driveway and every parking lot poses a higher danger of accidently hitting a child.

I was driving down Hastings Street in Greenfield the other day on my way from High to Federal, when I was struck by the large number of cars parked on the street, some across from each other, and the increased number of kids playing on the sidewalks.

There were kids kicking a ball in a front yard and others riding tricycles or Big Wheels, and I realized that the highest speed appropriate for me was a fast creep.

Many years ago, my dad taught me that when driving on a street like that, you need to go slow, always ready to slam on the brakes and also to peer UNDER the parked cars, looking for little legs walking or running out into the street.

That habit has warned me, more than once, that a kiddie was darting out into my path.

The thought that I might inadvertently harm a child by hitting him or her with my car makes my blood run cold.

But today, the fact is that many drivers zipping through a neighborhood might very well be talking on their cellphone or even texting.

Could you live with the fact that you brought tragedy to a family because you couldn’t wait to tell a friend the latest gossip?

Just using a reasonable speed on side streets can make enormous difference. Astonishingly, a speed change of just 10 mph, from 35 to 25, can decrease your stopping distance (reaction time, plus braking time) by 40 percent, from about 100 feet to just 60 feet. That nearly doubles the chances of your being able to stop.

Is it really that important that you get to the market or to buy that cup of coffee at the drive-through in 10 minutes, rather than, say, 12 minutes?

I once knew a guy who killed a man on the highway. He was driving late at night, in bad weather, on a controlled-access highway. He was cruising along, listening to the radio, thinking his own thoughts, when suddenly there was a man standing in front of car, not 10 feet from the bumper.

In that moment, when my acquaintance saw him, the pedestrian put a hand up, as though to ward off the speeding car ... and then it hit him.

His body spun up and back and crashed through the windshield, winding up in the back seat.

There was nothing the driver could have done ... it was raining, at night, and the man was intoxicated. Somehow he’d wandered into the middle of the highway just as the car got there.

It was not the driver’s fault ... but he told me (and this was three years later) that he never closed his eyes at night without seeing that man’s face and upraised hand.

We’d call that PTSD today ... he called it guilt.

Speed, inattention, carelessness ... they can all combine to cause tragedy.

And then there’s backing up in your own driveway. Every year, 2,400 children are injured in the U.S. by being run over by a backing vehicle.

When you jump in the car and head off to work or the supermarket, are you always sure you know exactly where the kids are? If they’re outdoors, do you do a checkoff to make sure they’re in sight before you select reverse gear?

The weather’s nice and getting better. Schools are out and the kids are swarming around outdoors having fun.

And it’s time that all of us drivers stop a moment, consider what bad habits we’ve formed and then resolve to do better.

Perhaps that could save a life.

Blagg has been Editor of The Recorder since 1986. He lives in Greenfield and is a military historian with an interest in local history. He can be reached at: tblagg@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 250.

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