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Rural Living for August 26, 2010

Watch out for tourist drivers

by Carol Dunn

HUERFANO- As you settle into country life, hopefully you learn to drive a little slower and be a little more patient on the highways.  That said, you can spot a tourist driver a mile away.  They are usually in a hurry.  They may break up the boredom of driving by talking on a cell phone.  They may be tired.  They may not be paying attention.  Some of them risk passing illegally on dangerous sections of highway.  They don’t know the local terrain, and they are mostly interested in getting through our rural area as quickly as possible. 

    Walsenburg is the “Gateway to the Southwest,” and over 3.5 million cars pass through our area every year on the way to somewhere else.  Defensive driving is of utmost importance for people who live here.   The National Safety Council describes this as anticipating dangerous driving situations regardless of light, weather conditions, or the mistakes of others. 

    More than a few of us have had to swallow our pride and slow down to allow a car to slip back into traffic in front of us after they passed us illegally.  Pride has no weight compared to the value of human life.

    A good defensive driving practice is to slow down.  You can scan ahead for potential danger and have better reaction time the slower you drive.  Young drivers (and even us older drivers) are sometimes impatient to get to their destination.  Impatient resident drivers don’t mix well with impatient AND tired and/or distracted tourist drivers.  Just ask yourself, would you rather be dead than be late?  Then slow down a little.

    In 2009, the section of highway 160 across La Veta Pass was considered by the Colorado State Patrol to be in the top 20 most dangerous stretches of highway in Colorado, based on fatalities and injury crashes.  Be extra alert if you are driving La Veta Pass.

    The majority of fatalities and injury accidents investigated by the CSP in 2008 involved alcohol use.  In second place is speeding or driving too fast for conditions.  The third most common cause is not paying attention (talking on a cell phone, texting, eating while driving, falling asleep).  Aggressive driving is next – improper passing, running stop signs, following too closely, failure to yield right-of-way, and driving on the wrong side of the road or cutting across the center line on a curve.  Common sense tells us how to avoid being in any of these categories.  Then we need to be diligent every minute we are driving, ready to react to other drivers’ mistakes. 

    With all the automatic features of newer vehicles, driving a car can become nearly a mindless activity.  It’s up to each of us to drive like we are taking our lives and the lives of others into our hands – because that’s exactly what we’re doing.