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All of us are key to traffic safety
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On the morning of Feb. 9, there was a tragedy involving a pick up truck running into a group of young girls. There was a dead teenage girl and two seriously injured ones lying in the street. And yet, two others who escaped serious injuries but their lives will be forever changed. At least 100 juveniles happened to be in the park directly adjacent to the collision scene, most of whom are now victims by their own rights; they will never be able to erase that gruesome scene from their memories.

The emergency personnel at the scene, including me, were deeply affected by this profoundly sad event. Most of the public safety personnel who responded have children and grandchildren, and when they arrived on the scene, they had to fight images of their own children in place of the real victims. This will go down as one of the worst tragedies in the history of our city - it was enough to shake this community to its core. Not even 24 hours later, two more juveniles were struck by a vehicle while crossing the street near Central Valley High School. Two others were able to jump out of the way, and fortunately all four were not seriously injured. For the week of Feb. 7 alone, three separate instances saw motorists run into juveniles in Ceres.

We have a big problem here in Ceres, and in this region as a whole. Too many motorists have become complacent about their driving habits; there are too many distractions with cell phones, radios, DVDs, GPS devices, CD players, dashboard technology and personal habits like eating and applying make-up while driving. We cannot wait for a third incident. It is time that everyone wakes up and starts driving safely, especially around school zones. This is also a good time to let our young people know that not all motorists drive responsibly and in light of these recent events, and I am urging parents and children to be vigilant and make no assumptions about your safety.

In 2007, Ceres ranked the fifth highest out of 98 similar-sized California communities in traffic collisions resulting in pedestrian injuries for children under the age of 15. Because the problem was so severe at that time, we began looking for ways to fund additional enforcement. In 2007, our traffic unit obtained a state enforcement grant. We dropped "down" to number 16 of 97 in 2008. The following year, we dropped even further to number 34 and have seen a significant reduction in pedestrian injury accidents involving children. Work still needs to be done, as Stanislaus County ranked sixth out of 58 for these types of incidents.

Traffic enforcement is a priority for this organization, but a safe traffic environment cannot be created by the police alone. It requires a public that is responsible and respectful of each other, aware of their surroundings, free of distractions. Motorists must stay focused on the task of driving. This problem is plagues all communities.

We cannot change what happened that morning, but we can use this tragedy as a wake-up call to help shock us back into being a safe driving community. My heart goes out to the victims' families and everyone who has been affected by the one of the saddest and tragic events to have affected the people of this area.