OPINION | DRIVETIME MAHATMA: Safest way to go is by following rules of the road

Dear Mahatma: I wrote a letter to the editor a few weeks ago, but you have more influence in auto travel. Please remind your readers to slow down when conditions require, don't follow so closely, and know at all times where your missile is headed. Every day I read of people dying because of neglect to follow safe driving habits. -- Bill

Dear Bill: We read that letter. Gosh, we read every letter on the Voices page of this fine newspaper. Much can be learned from letters. It's the wisdom of the public.

Everything you suggest applies to everyone who drives. Mostly, Bill, you exhort drivers to pay attention. So many distractions. Phone calls. Texts, which by law thou shalt not read, write or transmit. The radio. Passengers, including wailing children. Dogs in our laps.

Please, O Lord, spare us from that last one.

Let's look at some data from government safety agencies.

Drunk driving is a main cause of traffic fatalities in this country. About 35 percent of fatal wrecks involve an impaired driver. A preponderance of these accidents happen at night, which reminds us of our old Dad, who told each of his five sons that hardly anything good happens after midnight.

Speeding is another main cause of fatalities, causing about 29 percent of deaths.

Speeding is on the rise, supposedly because of the pandemic. Remember that? With fewer drivers on the highways, some people put pedal to the metal. When life, and traffic, returned to normal, many feet stayed pressed to the floor.

As has been said here many times: Those are speed limits. Not speed suggestions. Speed limits aren't arbitrary. They're set by law based on engineering and safety considerations.

Seat belts save lives. In Arkansas, the law says not wearing a seat belt is a primary offense, meaning law enforcement can stop and ticket a driver who is unrestrained. Good idea, in our book. About 46 percent of drivers and 47 percent of passengers who are killed in traffic wrecks aren't buckled in.

Wrecks, and their investigations, are complicated. What readers of the newspaper get every day are snapshots of fatal wrecks. But it's our belief that anytime it's reported that a driver or passenger was ejected, that person was not buckled in.

In 2020, about three times as many men as women were killed in wrecks. We think men take more risks on the road. The age group with the most fatalities is 25 to 34.

Now, about motorcycles. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says riding a motorcycle is inherently riskier than driving a car. And the most important piece of safety equipment for a motorcyclist is a helmet.

Arkansas law does not require a helmet. You takes your chances, and you pays the price.