Slow down, people — it’s not worth it | Editor’s notes
The older I get, the more every road looks like a graveyard.
There’s barely a major thoroughfare in these parts that doesn’t remind me of a fatal traffic accident. Off the top of my head, I remember friends and acquaintances killed or badly injured in crashes on Highway 99 (both east and west), Interstate 5, Highway 32, South Avenue and Corning Road –and any number of backroads in between. I’m not talking five or six wrecks; 63 years into this game of life, I remember dozens, along with the exact spots where they happened.
Speed wasn’t the deciding factor in each of those crashes, but it was involved more often than not.
Admittedly, I do not have a perfect record here. I’m about as cautious of a driver as it gets these days, but like many young men high on testosterone and low on brain development, that wasn’t the case 40 years ago.
I drove a Dodge Charger in my late teens and early 20s. Driving back from Redding one day, I got into a race with a Mustang and a Camaro. We reached 130 miles per hour between Cottonwood and Red Bluff. Fortunately, around the time I hit Nine Mile Hill, I had a flashback: Just a year or so earlier, on that same stretch of road, the lug nuts had broken on one of my wheels, which led to an unfamiliar wobble with my steering. I pulled over just in time to see my right front tire bouncing over the fence.
“If that happens now,” I thought, “I’m dead.” I slowed down and haven’t had any desire to match that speed again.
Call it divine intervention or a life-saving moment of clarity, but I got lucky. Too many people have not.
We got a horrific reminder of that early Thursday in Chico. A Corvette, driven at a high rate of speed at Eaton Road and The Esplanade, crashed into a semi. Both the driver of the car, a 21-year-old man, and his passenger, 19, were killed.
That’s far too young to die, and my heart breaks for the families and friends left behind. Unfortunately, when you’re moving at that kind of velocity, physics don’t care about your age.
It’s been widely circulated that the Corvette was seen traveling at excessive speeds in other areas of town in the hours before that crash, and some people said they’d been complaining about that car for weeks. A video posted on social media showed the car’s speedometer hitting 183 miles per hour.
As a point of reference, that’s six miles an hour faster than the top average speed ever recorded at the Daytona 500.
On our public streets.
We see this callous lack of regard for human life on our roads every day. Highway 99, both north and south of Chico, and Highway 32 between Orland and Chico must be the worst. Every day, people in too big of a hurry are tailgating and passing. Every day, drivers in the oncoming lane of traffic are forced to pull off to the side of the road to avoid a collision — if they’re quick enough. Too often, they’re not.
And for what? Almost every time I drive to Chico on Highway 32, I get passed by reckless drivers who end up tailgating the car in front of me. Every time, without increasing my speed, I catch up with them as they’re stopped at the East Avenue stoplight. Every single time. In other words, their break-neck maneuvers didn’t save them one second of time — but it sure did put other people’s lives at risk.
It makes me angry, angrier than anything I can think of these days. Look, you want to put your own life at risk with your idiotic behavior? That’s one thing, and good luck with that. But to do so in a way that threatens the lives of innocent people?
It reminds me of a blatantly obvious fact that somehow escapes these people: There’s a reason you never see drivers my age going 100 miles an hour while passing other cars over a double-yellow line. It’s because people who keep driving like that don’t live long enough.
So please, all of you want-to-be speed racers — slow down. There’s no point in driving that way on public roads. If you must, take it to the racetrack; some even offer clinics and coaching, like at Thunderhill Raceway Park in Willows. You’ll learn a lot about cars and driving, and it’ll keep the roads safer for all of us.
You’ll make your loved ones proud, too. Think of the lifetime of pain they’ll endure if you slip up just one time too many.
Besides, the last thing any of us need to see is one more roadside memorial.
Mike Wolcott is editor of the Enterprise-Record. He can be reached at [email protected].