This article was first published in the Utica Observer-Dispatch (Utica, New York), a fellow GateHouse Media publication. Guest editorials don't necessarily reflect the Daily Messenger's opinions.
Summertime — and the driving isn’t easy. In fact, it can become much more difficult for motorists, making getting there from here even riskier as more and more vehicles take to the highway.
Staying alert is the rule of the road.
As we get closer to Memorial Day, the unofficial gateway to summer, we’ll likely be traveling more places, whether it be a short stint to the nearest beach or a vacation many miles away. In any case, there are things we must remember.
• Vehicle maintenance. Before any trip, especially longer ones, make sure your vehicle is in solid shape. Make a mechanical check of everything from fluid levels (oil, coolant, transmission, window washer) and wipers to belts and tires, and if anything seems questionable, see a mechanic. Carry an emergency kit with you that includes things like a flashlight, first aid kit, jumper cables, water, paper towels, some basic repair tools (screwdrivers, pliers, duct tape), and be sure you have a cell phone (and charger). Having some sort of emergency road assistance plan is a good idea. Breakdowns on the highway can not only cause delays in your vacation plans, they can be expensive.
• Highway construction. Drivers need to be on guard, particularly in work zones, where fines are doubled for speeders. A tougher law was born of tragedy after three construction workers were killed in a work zone on Interstate 81 in the town of Chenango, near Binghamton, on May 20, 2005, when a speeding bus struck a tractor trailer and started a chain reaction accident. The three men were employees of a Cortland paving company. Two months later, the Work Zone Safety Act of 2005 was enacated. Among key provisions, it imposes a 60-day suspension of drivers’ licenses when a person is convicted of two or more work zone speeding violations, in addition to doubling the minimum fine for speeding in work zones that exists under current law. It also imposes a $50 surcharge for speeding in work zones. Remember, highway workers are in the front lines of danger. Reducing speed is essential.
• Roadside work. It was announced just this week that the state Department of Transportation will begin roadside vegetation control work this month in Oneida, Madison, Herkimer, Hamilton, Fulton and Montgomery counties. Most of the vegetation is controlled by mowing. In areas where mowing is unsafe or physically impossible, DOT crews apply targeted chemical treatments in accordance with New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. When crews are mowing in the right-of-way, signs will be posted to alert motorists. Mowing is generally done from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.
• Busier highways. Better weather means heavier traffic, particularly along interstates where vehicles are moving at fairly decent speeds. Many of the vehicles are towing boats, campers and other trailers that can pose risks in high-volume situations. Be especially careful if you need to stop your vehicle roadside for any reason. If you need to wait for assistance, exit the vehicle with all passengers and find a safe waiting place away from the road, beyond the vehicle. While one might think that icy winter conditions would mean more accidents, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that the end of summer — August — is when the most accidents occur. Saturday is the most likely day to have an accident. Remember, too, that summer means school is out, and there’s likely to be more younger, inexperienced drivers are on the road.
• Motorcycles, bicycles. Nicer weather means the two-wheeled travelers will return to the streets and it’s critical that we watch out for them. Bicyclists require no license, and younger, inexperienced riders aren’t always given to obeying traffic rules. Parents and other adult supervisors need to instill safety rules in little ones and restrict their territory. Even so, “rules” often are broken. Motorists, be on guard. Watch, too, for motorcyclists. State law requires they ride with headlight on during the day, but they can still be tough at times to see. Watch for them.
• Children at play. We should always use caution driving through neighborhoods, but once summer arrives it’s even more challenging as kids — on bicycles, skateboards, rollerblades, being pulled in wagons, running or walking — are all around us. Remember that kids — especially little ones —don’t sense the danger of traffic, and it’s not uncommon for them to dart into the street, sometimes from behind a parked car, shrubbery or other barrier.
It all gets underway in a few short weeks. We all look forward to the season and the good times it can bring. Let’s make sure it’s safe.