Editorial: Stay alert, stay safe while behind the wheel

It seems the roads are more hazardous as they've ever been.

As traffic volume slowly returns to pre-pandemic levels, there are more and more vehicles on the roads. With cellphones, in-dash entertainment screens and other devices, we seem more distracted behind the wheel than ever before.

In October the U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its early estimate of motor vehicle traffic fatalities for the first half of 2021, which runs from January to June. The report showed the largest six-month increase ever recorded in the Fatality Analysis Reporting System's history as an estimated 20,160 people died in motor vehicle crashes in the first half of 2021, up 18.4% over 2020. That's the largest number of projected fatalities in that time period since 2006.

Closer to home, the number of crashes on Dalton's roads have returned to pre-COVID pandemic numbers "as expected," but the Dalton Police Department is monitoring a "sharp" increase in the number of crashes with injuries from September to October, Police Chief Cliff Cason said.

October's 37 injury crashes were more than double September's 18, and "the traffic unit will be monitoring that closely," Cason told the Dalton Public Safety Commission members last month. Failure to yield was the leading factor in injury crashes last month, while following too closely was the leading contributing factor in October's 115 non-injury crashes.

Friday, with 31, then Tuesday, with 27, were the days with the most crashes last month, while 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. was the stretch of time with the most crashes, at 37, Cason said. Walnut Avenue had the most crashes, but Chattanooga Avenue had the "highest number of injuries per crash."

Here are tips from the NHSTA for safer travels:

• Plan your trips ahead of time. Decide what time to leave and which roads to take. Try to avoid heavy traffic, poor weather and high-speed areas.

• Wear your safety belt -- and wear it correctly. (It should go over your shoulder and across your lap.)

• Drive at the speed limit. It's unsafe to drive too fast or too slow.

• Be alert! Pay attention to traffic at all times.

• Keep enough distance between you and the car in front of you.

• Be extra careful at intersections. Use your turn signals and remember to look around you for people and other cars.

• Check your blind spot when changing lanes or backing up.

• Be extra careful at train tracks. Remember to look both ways for trains.

• When you take a new medicine, ask your doctor or pharmacist about side effects. Many medicines may affect your driving even when you feel fine. If your medicine makes you dizzy or drowsy, talk to your doctor to find out ways to take your medicine so it doesn't affect your driving.

• Never drink and drive.

• Never drive when you feel angry or tired. If you start to feel tired, stop your car somewhere safe. Take a break until you feel more alert.

• Never eat, drink or use a cellphone while driving.

• If you don't see well in the dark, try not to drive at night or during storms.

• If you have trouble making left turns at an intersection, make three right turns instead of one left turn.

• If you can, avoid driving in bad weather, such as during rain, sleet or snow.

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