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Another Bad Statistic

Tom PattonThe Florida Highway Patrol has ranked Jacksonville as the worst city in Florida for car crashes.

That's worst.

Worse than Miami, worse than Orlando. If you’ve ever driven in either one of those cities, you have to wonder how that can be, but there it is. Worst.

I’ve lived all over the country, and have landed here by choice. I’ve spent a lot of time on California freeways, the Washington Beltway, and on the Atlanta connector. I’ve seen my share of bad drivers.

I’ve also had the poor luck to be stuck in Miami and Orlando traffic at rush hour. That’s about as abysmal as it gets.

But based on the way people drive here in Jacksonville, I’m not entirely surprised that we have more crashes than any place else in the state, apparently by a large margin. Around 14,000 in Jacksonville alone, according to the report.

That keeps your local traffic reporter busy.

But then, I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a huge pickup truck or SUV sitting 5 feet off my bumper at highway speed when there’s obviously nowhere else for me to be. I’m trying to get around the other car, but the one in front of me is not allowing me to go as fast as you want me to go.

I think part of the problem causing this statistic is that, from my observation, people only seem to drive about 10 feet in front of their cars… or enormous trucks. There’s no reason for the monster truck to ride my bumper. I might actually be intimidated, but I can’t help it if there’s no place for me to get out of your way.

I also can’t tell you how many times I’ve been passed by someone with a phone pressed to their ear, mostly oblivious to what’s going on around them, weaving in and out of traffic, tailgating and generally lost. Or they’re amazingly aggressive, charging up behind someone, practically threatening to push them out of the way, and then passing in whatever lane first comes available with a deafening roar straight-pipe aggression only to race up behind the next car in line.

Or we both wind up stopped by the same stoplight. That’s particularly fun.

When you learn to fly, you learn some very basic things. Perhaps the most important being: look around.

I can still hear my flight instructor telling me to get my head out of the cockpit and look outside the airplane. You learn to scan your instruments and then scan outside, and maybe more importantly, you learn to look ahead of the airplane and anticipate what’s coming up, because you can’t just step on the brakes. These are skills that should be taught to drivers. Drive ahead of your car.

I was in an airplane once that got away from me. I distinctly remember trying to step on the brake pedal, because things were happening too fast. But all that happened was that the tail of the airplane skewed around a bit because I’d kicked the rudder. It brought into very sharp focus that I had to be in charge of the airplane or it would very quickly be in charge of me. I’m writing this, so I obviously got it together and remembered to fly the airplane, but it was a sobering lesson.

This statistic should be sobering as well. As big cities go, we’re not all that big. There’s no reason that we should have more traffic accidents than anyplace else in the state, unless it’s just the way people drive. I’ve been pushed off the road by merging trucks and gotten the stink eye because I had the bad manners to stop at an intersection where a fire truck was blasting its horn warning me that IT was going through. We all have bad days. There are times when we all drive aggressively. And despite the fact that my Neptune Beach native wife tells me “we don’t honk in the south”, maybe if a warning was given once in a while, there might be fewer crashes.

The bottom line, to my mind anyway, is that we all need to be a little more thoughtful when we’re on the road. Maybe we can not be the city with the most accidents next year. And no matter what, no matter how hard you might try to get in front of the car ahead of you … well … there’s always going to be another car ahead of you.

Breath in, breath out, move on.

3 Responses »

  1. Misbehaving drivers is my pet peeve. Who do they think they are that they can endanger others lives. One early morning a month ago, a young woman merged from I-295 onto I-10. She clipped the rear end of a van full of church choir singers. Nearly everyone in the van was killed. The woman that caused the wreck was not injured.

    One observation is that the JSO has given up on traffic violations. I love the JSO and mean no disrespect. I see more State Troopers writing tickets in Jacksonville than our own officers. This is probably due to the fact that our JSO officers are busy filling our crime scene reports. With our city's "death a day" commitment, we need six officers at each death scene and a lot of chalk. And in addition to death scenes, they have too many other crime scenes to attend to. Then they have to appear in court for each crime. Who has time ?

    To speed up accident reports, we hired nearly 100 "Green Shirts." They can sign accident reports but I'm not sure if they can pull someone over. And, they have no speed gun. I don't think. I like the "Green Shirts", too.

    Twice in the past week I have been lapped by someone going 40-50 mph over the set speed limit. You are kidding me. I actually said to my wife yesterday morning, "Oh, please let there be a police officer around the bend." And, as you said, we sat at the next light with the bad driver. By the way, we have his license plate number F059MA. It was a pickup truck.

    The "coming of age" or "realization" moment in a young persons life is when a 6'6' State Trooper with a smoky the bear hat pulls you over and writes you a ticket that you can not afford. Maybe we don't have enough officers or we don't write enough tickets.

    My psychology professor said that to change behavior you have to do three things (and this applies to raising children, too). First, the punishment has to be immediately following that bad behavior. IE: catch the speeder. Next, it the punishment has to be severe. IE: big ticket, lots of money. (for child behavior it was the mothers look) And finally, to change behavior it has to be consistent. IE: Speeders have to know with 100% certainty that when they speed, they will be caught and punished (and what the punishment will be).

    Maybe the punishment should be to take their car or their cellphone away for the week.

    Another observation is regarding the heat. For an officer to stand in the heat with a bullet proof vest and polyester clothing is too much to expect from anyone. Jacksonville Beach has the best plan which is summer shorts for officers though they still choose polyester uniforms.

    My final observation still deals with the heat. Next time you see a speeding car, check out the status of its car windows. I will bet you that 8 out of 10 times the windows will be down. No A/C means that people will speed.

    My last message is one I taught my children. While driving, be aware of all of your surroundings and give people plenty of room. Cars fall from the sky in accidents. Know where all the cars are at all times. It will save your life.

    I left out my number one... number one... peeve which is dark drivers side windows. I know it is against the law but in my world I would smash every one of them and make people buy new windows. We must be able to identify speeders and wrong doers. For police safety, we must eliminate all "limousine dark" front windows. In my neighborhood, I can't even see my neighbors waving or identify them because of their dark windows. This must be our number one goal. ELIMINATE DARK WINDOWS IN THE FRONT.

    Again, thank you JSO and FHP for the terrific job you do. I know it is overwhelming and dangerous. Keep up the good work.

  2. Here is an idea I think was printed years ago in the Florida Times-Union. I don't remember the reporter. I could have been Andy Rooney. He suggested that everyone be given three plungers that are mounted on the front of their vehicle. On the end of each plunger is a red flag. The plungers are rocket propelled.

    When a offending vehicle passes you (speeder, bad driver, etc . . .). You fire off one of your plungers which sticks to the back of their vehicle. The police just pull over those individuals with the most plungers. All plungers are marked with the owners code. If the police discover that you fire too many plungers each month you are a violator and are ticketed, too.

  3. Paul, I love that idea! I've always wished I had an air gun or something mounted to my car to "mark" those offenders. Granted, I'm not the safest driver around, but I've mellowed more as I've gotten older. I think that most of the bad drivers are young ones who really don't care or don't realize that their actions have major consequences. They don't get punished, they drive without licences or seatbelts. Granted, we are not the "biggest" city, population-wise, but we are the biggest city in terms of land. That is a lot of land & roads for cops to patrol & be on the lookout. Lately, I have seen more & more in my Arlington area & on the road, but they are usually not there when you really want them to be.