Editorial: Take driving seriously, Worcester

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We’ve all seen those drivers who jerk from lane to lane, passing everyone in their path as if trying to rack up points on their PlayStation.

We’ve seen the cellphone talkers and, more dangerously, texters, the road hoggers, the drag racers, the rule breakers, the rude, the drunken, the sleepy, the multitaskers, the distracted and the just plain angry. We’ve seen them, and in some cases been them.

But driving’s no game, and comes with no guarantee of getting from Point A to Point B, particularly in summer and during a holiday weekend when AAA estimates a record 43 million Americans will be on the road.

Heading for a cookout on the Fourth of July -- keep your eyes ahead and leave the road rage at home.

Wikimedia Commons

Heading for a cookout on the Fourth of July — keep your eyes ahead and leave the road rage at home.

We join state officials who gathered at the University of Massachusetts Medical School campus Tuesday in urging everyone to do their part to make the roads safer. Slow down, pay attention, and drive calmly and defensively.

Because the vast majority of driving trips go without incident, despite all kinds of imperfections along the way, we tend to forget just how dangerous driving is, how much responsibility is involved, and how hugely our actions and attitudes as a driver matter.

When at the wheel, put other tasks and concerns — except for those of your fellow man — aside. Just drive.

Through astonishing technology that now helps widely available vehicles park or even slow down to avoid a crash, driving is one of modern life’s great pleasures and conveniences. Even with such technology, we must remember, moving vehicles have the power to maim and kill. To wit, a semi-autonomous [we know them collectively as “driverless”] Tesla coupe was linked to a recent roadway death in Florida.

You can’t rely on your technology or your mechanic or the drivers around you. The quality of your driving is what you can control. And you can make a big difference, even in small ways.

For instance, there’s no underestimating the rolling effect of courtesy. Show it to other drivers, and you’ve not only tended your own equanimity, you’ve upped the odds those motorists will be considerate of the next guy.

Every time we drive, we come upon opportunities to create these little turns toward safety.

Not everyone is always on board with this, of course. The worst road hazards are often our fellow humans, and whether they’re having an off day or don’t deserve to be licensed, they’re putting everyone on the road — or alongside the road — at risk.

Car safety is one thing. Car idiocy is another.

The first is something we can work at. The latter is what people in downtown Worcester witnessed last Wednesday afternoon.

A woman driving an SUV made the lunatic decision to chase a former boyfriend who was driving a pickup truck. She aggressively pursued him on several streets across the city’s core, finally striking his vehicle hard enough on busy Major Taylor Boulevard that she lost control.

The 33-year-old barreled onto the sidewalk, where a woman and her 5-year-old granddaughter were waiting for a bus. The grandmother tried to shield the girl, but the charging vehicle hit them and hurt them badly.

Facing multiple charges, Cassandra Mae McAuliffe of Worcester, the driver of the SUV, was ordered held without bail Thursday pending a dangerousness hearing July 7. In Worcester District Court, her former boyfriend told investigators she had been on a days-long “drug bender” after the pair had argued, according to Assistant District Attorney Julieanne Karcasinas, the Telegram & Gazette reported.

The child, of Shrewsbury, was reported to be doing well after suffering a fractured skull and broken nose. The 54-year-old grandmother, identified in court records as Doris Arias of Worcester, was in critical condition as of Friday with multiple injuries, according to the T&G’s report. The grandmother’s injuries included a broken pelvis, arm and shoulder, broken ribs and a punctured lung, the report said.

In one news story shattering a sunny afternoon, we have themes of anger, alleged opioid addiction, domestic drama and major injuries. But the image that stands out from the reporting is that of the tearful 5-year-old being swooped up, comforted, and rushed to the emergency room by a shaken St. Vincent Hospital worker who happened to be nearby.

Teo Rivera’s role that day is, of course, the one we all hope we could play under those dire circumstances. We all hope kindness and competence are ready to rise and make a difference at a moment’s notice. So we know to cultivate those qualities in our routine hours, on and off the roads. In holding on to basic human decency, we can’t lose our way, and, if we can help it, can’t allow the people around us to lose theirs.

At Tuesday’s event at UMass, state highway officials launched a public safety ad campaign aimed at safer driving. It’s timed for the summer months, when crashes tend to peak, officials said.

In addition to tougher laws revoking or suspending licenses of those who’ve proved themselves a danger; and reformed enforcement to ensure illegal drivers don’t continue to gridlock our highways, we agree a public ad campaign can be very effective.

Information and awareness are powerful. And, any day, we’d rather see a blitz of ads and reminders about the seriousness of driving, than read about a serious crash involving an innocent grandmother and a little girl.

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