Summers on the Central Coast are truly special. Once sunshine burns off enough of the coastal fog, local residents are free to roam, enjoying the great outdoors.
The best way to do that is on foot — as in walking or jogging — or on a bicycle. Bike rides through the Santa Ynez Valley and back-country roads can be spectacular fun.
They can also be deadly, for both riders and pedestrians.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reports that the number of bicyclists killed last year soared 10 percent to the highest since the late 1980s. Pedestrian fatalities edged up 4 percent, which in numerical terms will be the highest death toll in nearly two decades. Meanwhile, car-crash fatalities have fallen slightly for the third consecutive year.
That makes sense, when you consider the added safety features on newer cars and trucks, when compared to a generally increasing California population, with cyclists and pedestrians not gaining much in the way of technological advances.
It is also common sense that a 150-pound person on a bike or on the sidewalk is no match physically for a 3,500-pound car.
In other words, our vehicles are making the leap into a safer future — leaving pedestrians and bicyclists in the dust, and too often, dead and seriously injured.
On the surface, the spike in pedestrian/cyclist deaths and injuries implies that because folks are so much safer inside their cars and trucks, maybe we should all consider giving up on walking/jogging and bicycling.
Major support for such a suggestion is that cars will continue to get safer, even to the point of driving themselves and their human occupants to and from their work and play, but humans are stuck with the fact that safer cars are not much help for walkers and bike riders.
The caveat may be that future cars will likely respond to folks on the outside by alerting drivers to the presence of pedestrians and cyclists, and eventually taking evasive maneuvers to prevent pedestrian/biker collisions. At least one can hope automakers go in that direction.
The reason this is important is that humans are becoming increasingly more distracted, and if anything are even less likely to pay attention to their driving, or to their walking and biking. Think of the videos of people fixated on texting and walking into glass doors or decorative, but still wet fountains.
And just because we live in paradise doesn’t protect us from vehicle-vs.-walker/rider collisions. Santa Barbara County averages about two pedestrian and five biking fatalities a year, numbers that are all-but-certain to go higher unless auto tech takes control, or drivers start paying more attention, or walkers, joggers and bicyclists can manage to keep themselves out of harm’s way.
Santa Maria has had more than 225 car-vs.-pedestrian/cyclist incidents over the past three years. Five of those hapless pedestrians did not survive the crash.
The city of Santa Maria is doing its part for traffic safety. The community’s streetscape plan provides wider sidewalks and more bike paths around the city. Downtown will be especially accommodating when the renovations are completed.
The bottom line is, despite daunting statistics, don’t stop walking, jogging and/or bicycling. It’s just such a pleasure and pays enormous physical and mental health dividends.
The second bottom line is, as a motorist, do your best to do what you’re supposed to do behind the wheel — pay close attention and keep an attentive eye on those of us enjoying an almost-perfect outdoor environment.