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home : current news : current news July 23, 2016

5/14/2013 12:19:00 PM
Distracted driving can be lethal
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

Rev. Richard Schmidtke is certain his dog Snowball was the victim of a distracted driver.

The purebred Brittany was killed before his eyes on April 16, as he walked her on Larch Street at the north end of Sisters. The dog was on an electronic collar and was leaving the roadway when she was struck. According to Schmidtke, the driver did not attempt to avoid the dog and drove on, stopping briefly to look back before leaving the scene.

The sheriff's office reports no leads on the case.

In an "open letter" to the driver, Schmidtke wrote: "It's virtually impossible to miss seeing a dog with a snow-white coat, unless you were doing something else, like texting, dialing a cell phone, or perhaps reading your mail."

While it can't be known for certain that distracted driving was the culprit in the hit-and-run, it is an all-too-common problem, according to law-enforcement officers.

Drivers distracted by their cell phone, GPS or music player can be as impaired as if they had a few drinks under their belt, according to Captain Erik Utter of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office.

"It essentially creates the same situation," he told The Nugget. "It's not just the cell phone use. I've seen people opening their mail and reading it while driving."

The results can be deadly. Schmidtke expressed horror at the idea that a person could just as easily have been the victim as a dog.

"Even though you had the entire street to yourself, you made no attempt of any kind to avoid hitting her; had she been human, it would have been far more tragic," he wrote. "You hit her so hard that the white fur you saw fly higher than your car was from her head. You completely ripped off one leg, broke most bones in her body, and managed to peel one-sixteenth inch off the hard molded plastic of an e-collar - all this on a street posted at 20 m.p.h. Can you imagine what that kind of speed would do to a person?"

Texting while driving was implicated in an accident that took the life of a youth riding his bike in Bend last summer.

Contrary to stereotypes, distracted driving is not merely a phenomenon of teenaged drivers, Utter said.

"I don't think it's isolated to people under 18," he said. "In fact, I don't think it's weighted toward that age group."

Many people are on their cell phone for work and are accustomed to multi-tasking. Behind the wheel is no place for that characteristic of 21st century living.

Utter noted that people trying to evade laws forbidding cell phone use have made the situation even more fraught.

"Drivers know they can't talk on their cell phone unless they have a hands-free device," he said. "They know they're not supposed to have their cell phone to their ear, so they're texting with their phone in their lap."

Anything that pulls attention away from navigating a few tons of steel down the road is a bad idea. Anything that slows reaction time should be avoided.

Utter says drivers need to focus on three things to avoid being a menace on the roads: Attentiveness; speed; and following distance.

That's advice Rev. Schmidtke ardently seconds:

"Accidents happen, but this one never should have," he said. "A reminder to us all to never drive distracted and to obey posted speed limits. It may well save a life, including your own!"

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