At the time I wrote my previous blog posting on this subject, I also wrote a letter to Mr. Bob Hermann who is the Washington County Oregon District Attorney. Please refer to my Previous Blog Entry for the links to the Willamette Week and OregonBlue articles.

Let me quote three items from Mr. Hermann’s response to my letter to him:

“Unfortunately the information reported by Ms. Axtman and the Willamette Week is inaccurate in some critical areas.” “Additionally the charges the grand jury issued were not reported fully or at all.” And: Ms. Aguilar-Gutierrez was arrested for reckless driving and causing injury to a child, subsequently charged by the grand jury for those same reasons. That part of the ‘facts’ were not reported.”

I should have held my tongue until I had my response from Mr. Hermann. I should have realized that the grand jury would not have agreed on the charges without a strong case from the DA’s office.

Because this incident involves a minor and because the case is open pending trial, Mr. Hermann could not comment fully on all the circumstances. But after reading his letter, I can see that the DA’s office is proceeding properly and within the law.

In my working years (I am now retired) I worked in the insurance industry for 15 years with about 5 of those years actively handling or reviewing accident claims. In all those years I can recall no criminal charges arising out of an automobile accident claim processed by me or that I handled unless there were extenuating circumstances such as drunk driving. The public’s attitude on these matters seems to be changing. Beyond simple negligence, if you are overly reckless in your driving habits and cause injury to another person, particularly a minor, you may be charged with a criminal offence.

I have learned a lesson here. Make sure I have all the facts before I lash out.

The 2009 traffic fatalities statistics will not be out until the middle of 2010. These are issued by FARS, Fatality Analysis Reporting System, of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. So please allow me to review some of the statistics from 2008.

The total traffic fatalities in the United States during 2008 were 37,261 which was a reduction of 3,998 over the previous year. This represents the lowest traffic deaths in the past 15 years. Each year over that same 15 year period the fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled has dropped from 1.73 to 1.27.

The only category that showed a significant rise in fatalities was motorcyclists.

The top link at the Blogroll on right in this blog gets you to these statistics.

I speculate that there are 2 major reasons for the overall reductions. The first is that cars are safer. More people are driving newer and safer cars and more occupants are using their seatbelts. The second reason is that the drunk-driving laws are being more heavily enforced.

Be safe out there. If you have not taken a defensive driving course in some time (5-10 years) find one and take it. Senior Citizen centers offer them, often for free or a very low price. You can always learn something at one of these courses. About 2 years ago I took the one offered at my local Senior Citizen center. It was a great refresher for me. I did make a couple changes in my habits because of what I learned in the course.

Did I say: Be safe out there? If you think the other driver will do something stupid to put you in jeopardy, he or she probably will. Not every time, but often enough to be a potential crash.

Here is a link to the EPA’s Criminal Enforcement web page (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). It appears that most of these desperados have fled the country.

Water polluters aren’t all the EPA goes after. If you search around the site you can find entries of summaries of criminal prosecutions in other areas. Here is a quote from one of the summaries of a case:

After a two-and-a-half week trial, the owner of the state’s largest asbestos training school and temporary employment agencies was convicted late yesterday on charges that she sold training certificates to hundreds of illegal aliens who had not taken the mandatory training course, and sent them out to perform asbestos removal work, for which she paid them “under-the-table.”

Crime pays, until you are caught!

Here is a little driving safety info from someone who drove about 1,000,000 miles over the nation’s highways in a big-rig, a tractor and trailer. That person is of course me. This Hazard Meter is a little device I created for me to use to keep me focused on my job, the safety part of it.

I’ll use examples from my driving experience, but the idea of the meter could be applied to just about any endeavor including piloting a large aircraft.

Every endeavor has a degree of hazard attached to it. Envision an analog meter here. When the arrow is to the left there is a higher hazard, a higher risk of an accident. When the arrow is to the right, the hazard is less. Say someone is driving a vehicle on a street and is approaching an intersection. As the vehicle approaches the intersection the arrow on the meter moves to the left. Intersections are high hazard areas under the best of conditions.

This is when the driver must counteract the left leaning tendency of the arrow (no political implications here). The driver must heighten his alertness. If there is a signal light at the intersection, how likely is it to turn red before the vehicle reaches it? What are the road conditions? Wet roads means slow up as the vehicle approaches the intersection.

The driver must constantly work to keep the arrow on the meter as far to the right as possible. No one can ever completely eliminate the hazards. The goal is to keep the hazards as low as possible, to keep the arrow leaning to the right.

Sometimes the driver intentionally increases the hazard as a normal part of driving. If you are driving a large, long truck and trailer, passing another vehicle by its nature increases the hazard and moves the arrow to the left. Anytime when a truck is driving with vehicles to its right there is an increased hazard. The driver must do what is necessary to move the arrow to the right. Complete the passing maneuver in a timely manner and move back to the right lane. As soon as this maneuver is completed the arrow automatically moves toward the right.

The two-second rule in driving states that no matter what speeds are being traveled, a driver must always keep a minimum of two seconds traveling time between the front of the driver’s vehicle and the rear of the vehicle ahead. Sometimes events occur that close up that gap. If a car slips in front of you, or someone slows suddenly, the driver must immediately act to regain that two second distance.

The “Never Do!” is just what it states. Never drive drunk. Never drive at excessive speeds. Never drive aggressively. Really this is mostly common sense stuff. The “Always Do!” is mostly opposites of the “Never Do!”

Here is an example I can conger up that applies to flying an aircraft. After you get pushed back from the loading ramp and start moving forward, the meter immediately moves to the left. What can you do to keep it on the right side? Be alert. Listen to the traffic director’s broadcasts. You may have to cross an active runway. The meter jumps to the left! Make sure you are not distracted. Make sure the runway is clear. Proceed only when properly directed to do so and you are satisfied that the meter is leaning to the right.

When you get to your hold spot just before turning onto the runway, the meter is idling to the right. As soon as you turn onto the take-off position, the meter is pushing to the left. You can’t push it all the way to the right because you know as well as most people that take-offs and landings are the most hazardous times of flight. Do what is necessary to keep the arrow leaning to the right. Once safely in the air the pressure on the arrow eases and leans comfortably to the right.

Opps! The “battery power only” indicator comes on. The meter slams to the left. If you know your procedures for this event, put them in play and move the arrow to the right. You have always wanted to visit La Crosse, Wisconsin. Now is your chance. You quickly determine that it’s an 8,500 ft runway. Safe for your Boeing 757. The weather’s great and down you go (in a controlled manner, of course).

The key to the Brandt Hazard Meter is a person being able to almost instinctively sense when the hazards are increasing, and then to know how to react. May I say that again? The key is for the person in control to be able to first sense the position of the arrow on the meter, the directional pressure on it, and then be able to correctly react to move the arrow to the right.

I’ve never written this out before, but I have always consciously used it while driving large trucks and even today in my little Toyota. I know that I am a very safe driver, but if I rest on that idea, that causes left leaning pressure. If I find myself less alert than I should be, I sense the left pressure and “wake up” to increase my alertness.

Drive safely out there. Keep alert. Know what the hazards are. Don’t follow closer that those 2 seconds no matter what. If you click on the top link on my Blog Roll on the right, you will see the results of not paying attention to the hazards. Driving a vehicle can be hazardous under the best of conditions, but when you don’t know what the hazards are, it can become down right dangerous.

Truck off the Freeway

Have you ever wondered how much money and effort is spent on aviation safety in the USA? The people who need safety education and training in aviation are getting it. The aviation safety records reflect the dedication to safety by pilots, ground staff, etc.

Why can’t we as a country put out the same amount of effort toward automobile safety? The automobile manufacturing industry has been making cars and trucks safer and safer. Highways are built to safer standards. Yet very little effort is spent on driver training. A person can get his or her drivers license at around age 16 and never has to receive any further education.

Am I repeating myself from a previous post? Yes I am because this needs repeating often and loudly. Remember, about 44,000 people are killed each year in the USA in auto crashes. Be careful out there. Driving a car is one of the most hazardous things we do.

Wrecked Car

Yesterday, I completed the 8 hour course titled AARP Driver Safety Program. The curriculum is geared to motorists age 50 and over. It’s a good review of driving techniques including places to use the most caution. Most crashes (they are not called accidents any more) occur in intersections and as a result of someone not yielding the right-of-way. There was a unit on “Judging our Driving Fitness: Knowing When to Choose to Retire from Driving.”

For me the course was a good review of what I already know. I must confess that there was nothing I learned in the course that would cause me to change any of my driving habits. I was an insurance claims adjuster and underwriter for 15 years as well as a long-haul truck driver for 10 years. During those times I received a great deal of experience in driving safety as well as may hours of classroom and in-vehicle instruction. So at age 62 I can feel confident of my driving abilities.

But I must not let my guard down.

As I wrote last week, I failed to recognize in advance that a parking lot was icy and could have caused an accident had circumstances been a little different.

I believe that it should be mandatory that every licensed driver take a refresher safe driving course every 5 to 10 years. The way our laws are now, a person can get a license to drive at age 16 and never again have to receive any more drivers training. This is unacceptable in my book.

Remember to be safe out there. Watch out in intersections; watch out for unsafe drivers and never challenge them for the right-of-way; keep a safe following distance of at least 2 to 4 seconds travel time. And find a safety driving course in your area and take it.

When I wrote yesterday’s post about the auto accident I really did not think about the fact that the man that was killed was one of my neighbors. I did not know him myself but others of my neighbors did.

I also did not know any of the 417 people who died in auto accidents in my state of Oregon during 2006, the year of the data I referenced in my previous post. Nor did I know any of the over 40,000 people that died in auto accidents in 2006. But all these people were friends, family, and loved one of others and their loss was deeply felt by many.

Drive safely out there. It is more dangerous than we realize. If you haven’t taken a safe driving course in recent years, find a source in your area and invest the time in updating your knowledge. The Senior Center in Hillsboro offers such a course for a fee of $10 which I am taking next week.

Brian Herinckx will be missed by many.

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