(An opinion column by Assistant Editor Ted O’Neil)
First, let’s start with the elephant in the room: the roundabout.
No matter how flawed they are, GDOT is infatuated with them and there are more in Bryan County’s future — including the plans for a redesigned exit at I-95 and Highway 144.
The first rule of thumb to remember is, it’s not a four-way stop. ALWAYS. YIELD. TO. YOUR. LEFT. It’s really that easy. It doesn’t matter how big your truck is, or how fast your car is, or how much of a hurry you are in, if there is a vehicle or vehicles already in the roundabout to your left, you yield to them. If you arrive at a corner as the same time as another vehicle and it’s immediately to your left, yield to it.
It would have been nice if the roundabout had been shifted more to the east because traffic heading south on Highway 144 has virtually no curve there to slow them down, and this can be nerve wracking for anyone trying to turn “left” there to access Henderson Park or McAllister Elementary.
I shudder to think what it will be like when 144 is expanded and there are TWO lanes at the roundabout. Several drivers could end up feeling like Clark Griswold in “European Vacation” as they go round and round. “Look kids, there’s the county building, and there’s Belfast River Road.” (P.S. When 144 is widened, GDOT plans to drop the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph. I can almost hear the chuckling now from the drivers who treat speed limit signs as mere suggestions along what they think is the Bryan Neck Motor Speedway.)
More sobering is the electronic billboard on northbound I-95 that shows the to-date traffic fatalities statewide. The first time I saw it last year, it was well over an average of 100 per month. It is again.
Out of curiosity, I compared Georgia to my native Michigan. The states have similar populations, but Georgia in 2015 had 1,244 traffic deaths in 1,148 accidents, or 12.81 traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents. Michigan had 942 traffic deaths in 873 accidents, or 9.5 traffic fatalities per 100,000 residents. Almost 25 percent of traffic fatalities in both states involved drunk drivers, which is 101 percent too many.
This is a completely unscientific guess, but I think the difference has something to do with the driver education process. In Michigan, you have to take 24 hours of classroom instruction and six hours of road work with a certified instructor before you can even get your learner’s permit. When the time comes, you have to take another class and pass a road test to get your first license.
All that’s required here to get a learner’s permit is to read some stuff and pass a written test. Then they drive with their parents before any classroom teaching or road work with a certified instructor is needed.
What if parents are teaching new drivers bad habits? Or what if they’re trying to teach them good habits and that isn’t getting through? Any parent of an athlete knows what I mean — you can tell them something a million times but the coach says it once and its gospel.
Now, I’ll be honest, I’m not a fan of more and more laws and regulations. The free-market anarcho-capitalist in me would like to see state and federal lawmakers docked pay for every day they hold session. But increasing Georgia’s driver education requirements is legislation I could get behind.
Several car lengths behind to ensure proper braking distance of course, but behind it all the same.
P.S. School is open. Drive as though every other vehicle had your child in it.