STEPHEN HEMELT — Safety needs to be a priority for all of us

Published 12:04 am Saturday, July 9, 2022

It can happen in the blink of an eye for members of our community.

Tomorrow is not promised.

Just cruise the headlines and current events at panews.com or in The Port Arthur News.

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Two Port Neches Police Department officers were involved in the fatal shooting of a 21-year-old early Tuesday morning.

The next day, Port Arthur Police announced the arrest of a local woman following the stabbing of a victim with wounds reported to her head and upper torso.

Fast forward another day and it’s the Orange Police Department reporting the death of a 22-year-old killed Thursday night in a case of gun violence.

Three random acts of violence that no one involved would have predicted 24 hours before.

Yet, in the span of 63 hours, numerous families are impacted and countless community ripples flow in tragedies that show no signs of ending.

That’s the type of potential violence prevalent in our neighborhoods and throughout our daily commutes.

So with that being said, staying safe on those commutes should never be taken for granted.

That’s obvious in Jefferson County and Orange County, where road awareness must also remain a top priority.

It was last month that the Texas Department of Transportation announced the northern two quadrants of the existing of U.S. 69/Texas 73 cloverleaf interchange would close permanently in Port Arthur.

Dates for the closure of the southern two quadrants of the existing cloverleaf are not set at this time and are going to be announced at a future date.

Motorists driving along Edgar Brown Drive east of there in Orange County better take just as much caution.

Just across the street from Orange County Airport is industry construction that routinely reduces the regular traffic often exceeding the 65 mph speed limit to a near standstill as large work vehicles exit the highway and enter the jobsite.

I’ve witnessed several near misses at that site in the last two weeks.

It is with that knowledge, especially here in our community, that the Texas Department of Transportation is pushing its “Be Safe, Drive Smart” campaign.

Drivers are especially at risk in Texas’s energy sectors, state officials say. Oil and gas activity brings increased traffic and large trucks to production areas and surrounding communities.

In 2021, more than 79,000 traffic crashes occurred in the state’s five major energy production areas, resulting in 1,119 deaths. That is a 20 percent increase over the previous year.

Failure-to-control speed and driver inattention were the top reasons for crashes.

Weighing 20 times more than an average car, “big rigs” require more time to accelerate and decelerate. For instance, an 80,000-pound, loaded 18-wheeler going 65 mph can take as much as the length of a football field to come to a complete stop, which is why motorists should avoid driving too closely or swerving in front of a large truck.

Large trucks also have larger blind spots. We must avoid these blind spots, which are located around the front, back and sides of trucks.

The best rule is if you can’t see the truck driver in the truck’s side mirror, then the truck driver can’t see you or your vehicle.

Drivers at risk in Texas’s energy sectors are asked to:

  • Follow the posted speed limit and adjust driving to match road conditions.
  • Focus 100 percent on driving. Put your phone away: no talking or texting when behind the wheel.
  • Give large trucks plenty of space. Pass only when it’s safe and legal to do so.

These driving tips or this conversation piece might seem like common sense for most readers. And I agree 100 percent with that.

However, just a couple of extra moments of caution or a few more careful drivers could finally end our state’s most dubious steak of unwanted death.

Nov. 7, 2000, remains the last deathless day on Texas roadways.

We’re decades into this streak. It’s time for it to end.

Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia, which publishes panews.com and The Port Arthur News. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com or 409-721-2445.