It was around one in the afternoon when a state patrol trooper recently pulled over a motor coach for speeding just outside of Eau Claire, 90 miles from La Crosse. While the officer was sitting in his vehicle, waiting for the ticket to print, he heard a whoosh of air.
The sound was from a passing car driven by an elderly man straight toward the motor coach. The ensuing collision was the most brutal crash the trooper has seen in almost two decades on the force.
While both people in the car were wearing their seatbelts, the driver's passenger and wife of 49 years died from injuries at the scene. The state trooper interviewed the 75-year-old man after the car accident, and the driver said that he saw the bus but not the patrol car, despite its flashing lights. It is unknown why the man hit the bus if he saw it in advance.
A captain with the State Patrol's Northwest Region can only speculate as to the cause of the accident, but wonders what drivers are doing that they don't see stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights. Even though people are sitting behind the wheel, they are doing other things like texting, talking on cell phones, eating or changing radio stations and not really focusing on driving as they should to be safe.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that distracted drivers caused nearly 5,500 deaths and 450,000 injuries in car crashes during 2009. Move-over laws don't protect stopped emergency vehicles from collisions with distracted drivers, who often suffer highway hypnosis and don't remember driving from one point to another. Alert and attentive driving is key to preventing further tragic accidents.
Not only do distracted drivers pose enormous dangers to themselves and their passengers, but also to other motorists with whom they share our highways, streets and roads.
Source: Pioneer Press: "Fatal Wisconsin crash illustrates dangers faced by inattentive drivers" by Chuck Rupnow: June 13, 2011