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Gridlock Guy: Reckless driving brings up a question that should never need asking

The horrifying and gut-wrenching tragedy at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas has inflamed passions and drawn grief. This, along with the recurring series of other mass shootings that tore through calm scenes of everyday life, bring about many questions of motive and policy.

But the most basic and haunting question is this: are people in normally non-violent settings - especially innocent children and faculty in schools - supposed to just assume the slight risk they might get shot?

Comparing deadly crashes to the horror of Uvalde or Sandy Hook might seem impossible, because the average wreck has far less carnage. But adding up the number of deaths in cars - deaths during a normal, everyday activity like commuting - conjures up the same ghastly question. Should people in cars or on foot or cycles near them just assume those activities are potentially deadly?

That is a low bar. And if people assume this, many certainly do not drive like it.

Given the gross inattentiveness that so many pay to how they drive, even people outside of the commuting structure also need to take note.

Metro Atlantans had grim reminders of this last week. Are people even safe in their yards anymore?

68 year-old Paul Nix rode his mower on a muggy June 8th afternoon in Cumming, when Forsyth County deputies say 22 year-old driver Kenneth Johnson lost control in a curve and hit and killed Nix. Nix was not playing in the street or waiting by his stalled car on the shoulder. He was cutting his front yard on Hopewell Road and died.

Police shut the road for over two hours to investigate the incident. They allege Johnson, who failed a field sobriety test, was under the influence and also texting behind the wheel. They are charging him with, among other things, first degree vehicular homicide.

Imagine if Johnson had handled driving with the idea that his decisions could end a life and ruin his own. Might the decisions he made have been different? Likely.

Around 7 p.m. last Tuesday, two Atlanta officers collided whilst trying to converge on a robbery and shooting suspect. One of the officers reportedly ran a stop sign, as they traveled quickly on Sims Street, through a Southwest Atlanta neighborhood. One squad car flipped and landed in a yard.

Milan Johnson had just brought her kids inside from the yard. She said they were seconds from being hit by that police car. Video from Johnson’s home security camera shows the APD cars colliding at an intersection that had a stop sign. The car that flipped slid into her front yard, knocking down that stop sign and a mailbox, and across the small walkway that goes right up to the front door Johnson and the kids had just entered.

APD is investigating, Channel 2 Action News reports, and has not released the names of the pursuing officers or whether or not the robbery suspect had been caught.

Police go through extensive vehicular training - I have seen it first hand - and have to make split-second decisions in the heat of crime-fighting moments. But what if the Johnson family had been hit? Would the injuries or deaths have been worth catching the suspect?

These incidents are very different but they raise the same questions. Should people now wonder if they are safe in their front yards? Should they assume that working or playing outside has more risk? Should yard services get hazard pay?

Getting children to leave the screens and play outside is hard enough.

The government is not going to ban cars. But law enforcement can do more to enforce reckless driving, speeding, distracted driving, and drunk driving laws. Officers should also drive judiciously in neighborhoods, where things can go wrong far quicker than on freeways.

But the biggest agents of change are us citizens. If driving is indeed more risky these days, then we need to be introspective of our own behavior. Speeding, swerving, and texting are all contagious - and deadly. Maybe we should take a few extra minutes or seconds to consider our decisions and stop the spread.

Children playing and seniors mowing should never have to assume their activities out of the roadway put them in car-danger, just as students or shoppers should not have to shudder about mass shootings. But until we change our actions as citizens and bolster our laws and enforcement, all will have to assume those risks.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also hosts a traffic podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.

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