Gridlock Guy: Several salutes heading into the summer driving season

Traffic has gotten noticeably amped up after an early April spring break swoon. Great weather usually equals ugly traffic, because so many people head out to travel, soak up rays, and attend events.

All of this makes April a fitting month for a confluence of safety reminders and appreciation of the people who serve every commuter. As we leave April, let’s reflect on those.

First, as mentioned here multiple times in the last month, April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. I wrote in this space early in the month about the legacy of Captain Herb Emory, his fight against distracted driving, and some tips to be and stay hands-free and comply with Georgia’s 2018 law change.

Seeing how soft and complacent people have become about being hands-free and driving in general is disheartening. But I find myself falling victim to the same malaise sometimes.

We need not look any farther than the rash of recent fatal freeway incidents as reminders of how our small bad decisions can create horrible carnage. Likely all of the gruesome scenes on I-75/northbound in Marietta, I-20/westbound in Downtown Atlanta, and I-75/southbound in Midtown Atlanta could have been completely averted by drivers paying greater attention. Each involved a collision between something moving fast and something barely moving or stopped. Those kinds of wrecks are the worst.

Distracted driving isn’t just bold faced holding a phone and texting behind the wheel. This can be any act that takes significant enough attention off driving, including eating and drinking, having an impassioned conversation, changing the radio (which should always stay on 95.5 WSB), and using the infotainment monitor.

Most distractions are legal, but we need to be in tune with them and drive with a higher IQ.

Driving with higher acuity feeds right into the recognition of National Work Zone Safety Awareness Week, which was April 17th-21st. As the name states, this week aims to have drivers pause and reconsider how they drive in active construction zones. Over 1,600 people nationwide have been killed in work zones, according to American Traffic Safety Services.

Being a road construction worker or a first responder working in traffic carries higher risk than many other vocations. Work zones themselves are more dangerous than other parts of streets, because of topographical changes, unexpected lane shifts and closures, and many variables like equipment and people going in and out of lanes.

So whether workers are actually active in work zones should not make people drive any more or less carefully and attentively.

But the presence of unprotected human beings should put eggshells under drivers’ throttles. This should draw drivers’ eyes to the windshields and hands to the steering wheels. Again, one small decision can be the difference between an overnight concrete-pourer arriving home for breakfast or not.

Lastly, April has an annual week to honor 911 dispatchers and others for similar organizations. April 9th-15th was National Public Safety Telecommunications Workers Week. I like to shorten it to National Dispatchers Week. They respond in kind to both.

Truly an underappreciated profession, 911 dispatchers are part of the necessary undercurrent in society that keeps the wheels turning 24/7. They literally save lives, by dispatching the right equipment as quickly as possible to emergencies. And they sometimes literally save lives by calmly talking someone through, say, a mental health crisis or an active shooter-shelter in place situation. They are heroes.

The WSB Traffic Team and I heavily depend on these different 911 departments (and GDOT’s 511) to properly report traffic. We listen to police scanners and scour the GDOT website for incident information, but we also call Metro Atlanta’s main 911 centers hourly to check the traps for anything new.  We cannot begin to thank them enough and they sure appreciate it when anyone does.

As we move forward into May and the busy summer driving season, let’s remember the lessons of April: drive attentively, be careful in work zones and around workers, and be appreciative of our heroic 911 dispatchers.

Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. Download the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App to hear reports from the WSB Traffic Team automatically when you drive near trouble spots. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.





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