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Basic mistakes a common factor in many Kingsport crashes

Rain Smith • Jul 28, 2019 at 8:00 AM

KINGSPORT — The vast majority of us do it every day, handling, like second nature, what is potentially the most dangerous action in our lives: operating an automobile.

And for the Kingsport Police Department officers who work approximately 70 traffic collisions each week, there’s a handful of driver mistakes and misconceptions that are often the contributing factors — combined with some unique features of our roadways.

“No matter how good of a driver you think you are, you stand a chance of being involved in a crash any time you are in an automobile,” said KPD Public Information Officer Tom Patton. “It may be your fault. It may be somebody else’s fault. But crashes can and will inevitably happen.”

FIRST, THE BASICS

It’s the speed limit.

Emphasis on “limit” — i.e., the maximum allowable miles per hour.

“It doesn’t mean that you have to go that speed all the time, especially if conditions dictate otherwise,” said Patton. “It also doesn’t mean that you are allowed a certain overage — 5, 10 mph — over that posted speed.”

Meanwhile, the “right of way” implies something a driver is entitled to. But police say it should actually be thought of as something to be given away, not something to be taken.

In other words, don’t depend on that other driver to do what they’re supposed to. Several Kingsport collisions occur when a driver makes a turn as permitted, but another driver fails to yield and triggers a crash.

Adhering to laws reduces the likelihood of a crash and improves traffic flow. And extending courtesy to your fellow motorists can lessen everyone’s stress levels, especially when it comes to lane usage.

Said Patton, “On a multi-lane roadway, the left lane is primarily intended for passing (or turning left if not an interstate), not continuous routine travel.”

A KINGSPORT CONUNDRUM

During 2017, the last year of available data, the KPD Traffic Unit and patrol officers investigated 3,531 crashes. Six were fatal, while another 625 led to injuries.

Kingsport has several factors making its traffic unique, including the interchange of Interstates 26 and 81 and a large number of commuters coming and going.

But police say a particular complication is Highway 11-W (Stone Drive) cutting through the center of the city, about 4 miles of which features three lanes in each direction, plus a continuously running center turn lane. Of Kingsport’s top 20 intersections for frequency of crashes, 13 are on East Stone Drive or West Stone Drive.

Contributing to Stone Drive’s problems, according to police, are its virtually unlimited access points, with parking lots for nearly every business connecting directly with the highway. A safer concept would be access roads connecting several businesses, then funneling traffic to the highway at a single point.

BUCKLE DOWN AND BUCKLE UP

When it comes to safely reaching your destination, simply paying attention is paramount. That would entail no eating, texting or fiddling with the radio.

“When you are behind the wheel of a car, make driving that automobile not just your top priority, but your only priority,” said Patton. “Never take your eyes off the road.”

Patton added that motorists should leave earlier than necessary to reach their destination. That allows a safety net of time in case you experience a delay and should negate the urge to be in a hurry and spur a costly mistake.

And though authorities have harped on the “buckle up” message for more than a generation, a large proportion of fatal crashes still see the victim not using a seat belt. In the event of a collision, it’s designed to slow a driver’s forward movement as the airbag deploys. Failure to wear a seat belt can actually cause serious injury from the airbag.

“Always wear your seat belt,” said Patton. “It is the single greatest way to reduce or eliminate serious injuries or death that result from motor vehicle collisions.”

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