Eagle County Sheriff: Let’s review some driving lessons we learned in high school (column) | VailDaily.com

Eagle County Sheriff: Let’s review some driving lessons we learned in high school (column)

James van Beek
Valley Voices

Editor's note: This is the first part of a two-part series of columns on driver safety. Find the second part in the Thursday, Sept. 13, edition of the Vail Daily.

While driving 75 mph, make a U-turn across the center median, use your X-ray vision to determine the distance and speed of the approaching semi-truck, pull out in front of him … and die.

Of course, everyone says they would never do that, and yet, it is done every day. Last week, as Interstate 70 was closed for hours, people wondered what happened. The scenario above is precisely what happened, but thankfully, no one died, and yet, if just a few things were slightly off, then it would have been catastrophic. If the truck driver had his attention diverted to anything else at precisely that moment, then we'd have been calling the morgue instead of tow trucks.

You've got to wonder, are people sitting on their brains when they get behind the wheel of a 2-ton machine? And why is it they decide that's the time to reorganize their music files, make phone calls, adjust the dog's collar, look for that discount coupon you know is in the car somewhere or, ladies, forgive me, put on your makeup?

Are these things so important that you want them to be your last memory? Not reflecting on those you love, making a spiritual connection, admiring the incredible mountains … no, you'd prefer to dust off that old Bee Gees CD from the glove box and determine just how long that candy has been there.

Perhaps these distractions are the reason sign language has become so popular on the road … you know, the kind that can express an entire sentiment with only one finger. So, let's review some of the things we learned in high school and insist with our kids but live in the world of do as I say, not as I do.

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Center medians: Don't cross them. No, not shouldn't unless I'm in a hurry and missed my exit — don't ever, unless directed by law enforcement, who have already secured oncoming traffic. Those little paths are for emergency vehicles, not for those concerned about missing the beginning of "Mission: Impossible."

GPS: The idea of GPS is to get you to your destination. If you are trying to read the map, then you may not make it there. GPS can indicate directions but can't protect against stupid. Plus, while you're trying to read the map, you may miss the actual road. Review it ahead of time or turn the audio up to hear directions or ask a passenger to assist.

Phone: As people are spending more of their time commuting, they want to multitask … don't while driving. When focused on a conversation, your awareness is reduced, and you may miss a critical bit of information that could save your life — a sudden item on the road, an animal crossing or a flying saucer landing. The difference between a safe arrival and an accident is often the awareness of the driver to unexpected events and, of course, no texting for the same reasons.

Seatbelts: Two seconds and you're done. If you haven't been in a car since the '60s, then you can go online for detailed instructions … pull latch, insert belt. Of course, you may prefer the glass necklace that is common without its use. This is the simplest thing you can do to protect yourself and those who entrust their lives to you in the car.

Turn signals: Those flashy things that you find annoying when behind someone who switched lanes in Kansas and is still alerting those behind them. Or the person who knows there is a turnoff coming up soon, at least within the next 10 miles. Yet, believe it or not, they are a useful safety feature to let those around you know that you will be slowing down or stopping, so they don't end up as a passenger in your back seat. Turning them on just as you are making the turn may produce the same result.

Summer is ending and now the road warrior schedule begins: classes, sports practices, music lessons, birthday parties, school events, etc. These are the memories that you will miss once they have left home. Stay alive to enjoy them — and welcome to fall.

James van Beek is the Eagle County sheriff. You can reach him at james.vanbeek@eaglecounty.us.