Our Opinion: It only takes seconds to kill on the road

Published 8:21 am Thursday, September 14, 2017

The modern daily working police uniform bears little resemblance to those on old television shows such as “Adam-12,” “Dragnet,” and “CHiPs.” With the tactical body armor, body cameras and belts and vests full of other gear, the uniforms tend to take on the toughness of “S.W.A.T.”

Yet, beneath the gear or behind the lionization by TV of police, these men and women share our humanity, our mortality.

The Austin Police Department Facebook page has a sobering post on it about a fellow officer who was struck and killed by a distracted driver last week.

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“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Wayzata Police Department and the family of Officer Matthews,” it says.

“Please remember to slow down and move over for emergency vehicles on the roadway.”

Officer William Mathews stopped to pick up debris on Highway 12 last Friday when he was fatally struck by a car whose driver was on drugs and texting behind the wheel, prosecutors say.

Unquestionably, this was a preventable tragedy that we urge all drivers to remember when the impulse comes to send a text while driving, or to read one. We’ve actually heard over the police scanner in the newsroom of a person just this week driving a truck while looking at a laptop perched on his steering wheel.

“Each year in Minnesota, distracted or inattentive driving is a factor in one in four crashes, resulting in at least 70 deaths and 350 serious injuries,” according to the Minnesota Office of Traffic Safety website. “OTS estimates these numbers are vastly underreported due to law enforcement’s challenge in determining distraction as a crash factor.”

The numbers should be frightening, but numbers tend to get brushed aside. Here is another way to think about what could be lost.

The Austin department’s Facebook page also includes posts of officers in positive, even inspirational action. One video of Austin Police Sgt. Kim Lenz has been making the rounds on social media. It shows her stopping her squad car to join an elderly lady who she spotted dancing alone on a sidewalk. The videos has more than 165,000 views and inspired so many people.

Lenz invariably will be in a situation similar to Matthews. Any of our local law enforcement personnel will. You might be driving past. It only takes seconds to cause a death.