Seeking young, creative minds for a driving safety poster contest

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So, it has happened again.

In less than two weeks, another young person died in a rollover crash on our back roads. Just before 9 p.m., on Thursday, May 31, Winters resident Juan Aguirre, age 16, was speeding down Pedrick Road near Dixon Avenue when he lost control. His car left the roadway, hit a tree and rolled over.

His two teenage passengers were injured, one severely, and taken to area emergency rooms. Juan was declared dead at the scene.

Drugs or alcohol are not believed to be factors, and all three were wearing seatbelts. It was all about the speed and, I believe, inexperience. Juan was only 16. He couldn’t possibly have had a driver’s license for more than a year.
Painfully ironic, AAA began its awareness campaign about summer being the “100 Deadliest Days of Driving” for teens on May 31 — the same day Juan died, putting a very painful point on the topic. During the summer months, teen driving fatalities jump 10-15 percent. And those are just the fatalities. The number of injuries is surely exponentially worse.
So, you take teen drivers, inexperienced, easily distracted, high-spirited and believing they’re immortal, unable to ignore their cell phones and pushing the envelope of what they can and can’t get away with (and sadly, tearing the envelope may prove fatal), and put those drivers on our back roads, which have a variety of safety issues all on their own, and it’s a perfect cocktail for tragedy.

Those of us who drive the back roads all the time can become complacent, and let our speed creep up or give in to the temptation to glance at our cell phones or the radio, and it only takes a split-second of inattention to lose control. Even when we’re doing everything right, other drivers are a constant wild card. It requires constant vigilance while driving the back roads — keeping an eye on oncoming traffic, navigating around frustratingly slow agriculture equipment and slowpokes who hold up lines of impatient drivers, cyclists who are sometimes amazingly nonchalant about staying in the bike lanes, all sorts of debris, and even wildlife. Compounding all that is poor road maintenance.
Yolo County -—I’m looking at you.

County Road 31, for example, is frequently dotted with potholes — not the cute Davis alley kind, but the kind that nearly rattle your front axle off when you hit them. Other areas need to be reengineered, such as the County Road 31-32 split where, on May 19, an elderly pair’s car overturned and a toddler was thrown from the vehicle and killed. Roads that were engineered for the light rural traffic of yesteryear are going to become increasingly treacherous as Yolo County grows, and Winters is attracting visitors from all over the place, in particular, people who don’t know how to drive back roads.

That was last week’s column topic, and I was encouraged to hear from Yolo County Supervisor Don Saylor afterwards, who told me he will look into road safety at the split. For starters, he noted the unsafe, deep, car-rolling dip on the small triangle-shaped patch of land there, right in the heart of the eastbound turn — right where the car carrying the toddler that died ended up.

While Saylor shines a light on back road safety, I still want to do more. Even if all the roads were made perfectly safe, you can’t legislate human error. However, you CAN get people’s attention and hopefully inspire them to make changes. And so, I propose this: a driving safety poster/slogan contest for youth. Something that ultimately could be reprinted and serve to raise awareness and make change.
Yeah, yeah, you scoff. But there are plenty of mere slogans that made change. Back in the ‘70s, the “Buckle Up” campaign began, during a time when most people didn’t bother with seatbelts and some cars didn’t even have them. But the “Buckle Up” campaign sunk in, and wearing seatbelts became the norm. Read: Lives were saved.

With the “100 Deadliest Days of Driving” officially underway, it’s the perfect time for a summer poster/slogan contest, for both Davis and Winters youth, because our communities are connected by these back roads, particularly County Road 31. So, young people, get out your computers or old-school it with poster board and crayon, and let’s raise some awareness, because right now, nobody seems to be aware of back road driving safety until someone dies. This must change.

Labor Day will be the entry deadline, so you have the summer to work on it. I don’t know what the prize will be, but I’ll figure it out by then, and the Express editor and I are pals, so I can get it on the front page. In the meantime, while Mr. Saylor shines a light on the County Road 31-32 split and young minds are furiously creating away, the rest of us can make the back roads safer now by changing our driving habits.

Number One, “Slow Down.” The speed limit is 55 mph on the back roads, and I routinely see drivers barreling along far faster than that. Sometimes they’re passing drivers plugging along at 40 mph and holding up traffic. So, ironically, there’s Number Two: “If You’re Holding Up Traffic, Pull Over.”

Number Three: “Ignore Your Cell Phone While Driving.” Period. Whatever it is, it can wait, and if it can’t — pull over before checking your phone. I would argue that distracted driving is far more dangerous than drunk driving, just by the sheer numbers. I see drivers on their cell phones all the time, and wish I had a “Put down your cell phone, moron!!!” sign to wave at them. But, waving a sign around would make me a distracted driver, so it sort of defeats the purpose, doesn’t it.

OK, young people: School’s out. Let’s raise awareness like a boss, and save some lives — maybe yours or that of someone you love. Email a photo of your entry to: debra@wintersexpress.com.

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