Charles E. Richardson

RICHARDSON: Stupid car tricks

Maybe it’s just me, but in the past few weeks I’ve noticed a disturbing trend. It’s possible that Tony Rojas, director of the Macon Water Authority, had someone throw an extra batch of stupid in the water supply (just kidding). Have you noticed people driving with reckless abandon, putting their lives and others at risk?

A few examples: I guess it’s possible they don’t teach drivers what the double yellow line means anymore. That double yellow line becomes particularly important in three situations -- on a hill, in a curve or on a two-lane road. I’ve seen violations in the past week of all three.

I drive a big, hulking, gas-guzzling SUV, and I sit quite a bit higher than the Honda that passed me on Heath Road just past Westside High School. There is a slight rise in the road, and I could see the approaching car. But the driver passing me in the Honda didn’t have a clue. I thought she was about to commit suicide so I slowed to a crawl so she could get over. She barely made it. The scare didn’t slow her down as she sped away, hopefully embarrassed.

There also has been a rash of red light runners. That’s difficult to do since the traffic signal doesn’t turn green for opposing traffic for several seconds after turning red. This past week I’ve counted three instances where suddenly a car flies through an intersection blatantly running what I call a “been red light.” People who do that don’t realize how dangerous their time-saving maneuver is. Or maybe they don’t know the definition of being T-boned or T-boning someone else. Nothing pretty about either.

I came from California, and there is a phenomenon called a “California stop.” I’m not sure how it got its name, because I’ve seen it everywhere. A California stop is when the driver of a car doesn’t come to a full stop at a stop sign or red light and either glides through the intersection or generally makes a right turn.

Macon drivers have taken to making right turns in front of oncoming traffic and I hesitate to call it a California stop, because they don’t stop at all. They dare you to hit them. It’s as if they are saying, “I know this guy doesn’t want to mess up his big, hulking, gas-guzzling SUV by hitting somebody in a 1972 Buick who doesn’t have insurance and is probably driving on a suspended license,” and he’s right, so I punch the brakes. I sure wish I had a Taser on board. I’d set it a little higher than stun and blow out his 22-inch tires, rims and all. I witnessed one guy in a Navigator commit three sins at once. First, he made a right turn on red without stopping and then passed the car ahead of him by crossing a double yellow line on a two-lane road with oncoming traffic in sight.

The most dangerous thing I’ve observed and what has probably led to all of the above is our need for constant contact. Everybody is concentrating on something other than driving. Many are talking and texting. Distracted driving is going to be the death of us all. Have smartphones become so smart they are making us dumb? Some people believe we’re being more efficient by using our time in the car to return calls or make calls, but that habit puts our lives and those of drivers around us in jeopardy. Think I’m full of it? In 2013, 3,154 people were killed in distracted driving crashes, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and 425,000 were injured. Of those, 776 were passengers and 480 were nonoccupants, meaning, they were either in another vehicle or were pedestrians.

According to the Pew Research Center, young drivers are at particular risk: “18-24-year-olds send or receive an average of 109.5 text messages per day -- that works out to more than 3,200 messages per month. ... Just over one in 10 (12 percent) say that they send or receive more than 200 messages on an average day -- that equals 6,000 or more messages per month.”

I don’t know what we can do to get drivers’ eyes back on the road and stop them from doing stupid car tricks. As far as I know, all the crazy things I saw last week didn’t end in tragedy, but it only takes one slip for lives to change or to end. Be careful out there.

Charles E. Richardson is The Telegraph’s editorial page editor. He can be reached at 478-744-4342 or via email at Tweet@crichard1020.