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Saturday, January 21, 2012

Some simple steps to improve highway safety

(Final draft)

It’s outstanding that in 2011, motor vehicle fatalities in Idaho dropped to their lowest rate in 50 years. Idaho Highway safety manager Brent Jennings remarks, “We believe that we can attribute this significant decline in fatalities to the educational programs, the partnerships that we have in education, in engineering, law enforcement, and emergency medical services.”

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A related category where I would like see continued improvement, is for our highway personnel to encourage each other to position highly visible “Workers Ahead” signs well in advance of the actual roadwork and from all directions leading up to the job, even if it looks as though their tasks will only encompass a brief period. We already have rigorous safety standards in place to promote this; however, here is where I would like to make a personal observation on the subject:

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Back in the mid-90’s on Highway 75 north of Hailey, there was a case where a utility contractor, perhaps thinking he would only be there briefly, set out a handful of safety cones in the vicinity of his boom truck, before rising to work on some power lines. Unfortunately, this was near a blind curve in the road, and a mechanical support-leg from his work vehicle was protruding into the highway 1½ feet. A southbound motorist did not notice this obstruction in time to react properly; and suddenly veered, causing a horrific head-on collision. This killed a young man named Ken who was traveling north. Upon investigation, local authorities revealed that the company doing the utility work did not follow the law, as they neglected to carefully lay out 3 sets of “Workers Ahead” signs in specifically staged areas, and a court found the contractor partially accountable for the damages.

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Before Ken’s life was taken in that wreck, I was fortunate to become briefly acquainted with him. I learned that he was a hard-working family man with two small children. And I could sense by the deep engaging way he gazed into people’s eyes, that he was a salt-of-the-earth type of individual who was genuinely interested in whatever you were up to. Sometimes in the evenings, I would hear Ken practicing tight with his band, blanketing Old Hailey with a friendly atmosphere of soft jazz notes.

*

Therefore, as Ken was a long-time pillar of the community, for months afterward, many folks held some outrage against the contractor partially responsible for the crash. A local newspaper reported in depth on the various safety protocols workers should follow and word spread wide to all roadmen that they had best follow these rules. However, after a few months slipped by, I noticed some workers had started slacking off again from their diligent safety duties, such as not using flaggers in places where they clearly should have, or working late with insufficient lighting. Over the years, I’ve made mental notes of these irresponsible acts, sometimes seeing workers placing themselves in conditions even more dangerous than the one that killed Ken.

*

Then last year, another acquaintance was killed in a worker-zone crash on a different stretch of Highway 75. In her case, questions have arisen as to whether the workforce there posted enough advance warning, before a truck driver unsuspecting of the stopped traffic ahead, plowed into several vehicles.

*

With these crashes, I like to believe my friends were something better than statistics and hope that some good can come out of their tragic losses. Although, we will always face danger on the highway; I implore our dedicated workers in the concerned spirit of Ken to do everything they can to make us safer for 2012 and beyond.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A simple step to improve highway safety

It’s outstanding that in 2011, motor vehicle fatalities in Idaho dropped to their lowest rate in 50 years. Idaho Highway safety manager Brent Jennings remarks, “We believe that we can attribute this significant decline in fatalities to the educational programs, the partnerships that we have in education, engineering, law enforcement, and emergency medical services.”

*

A category in which I would like to see continued improvement is for our highway managers, workers and utility contractors to encourage each other to position highly visible “Workers Ahead” signs well in advance of the actual roadwork and from all directions leading up to the job, even if it looks as though their tasks there will only encompass a brief period. We already have rigorous safety standards in place to encourage this; however, here is where I would like to make a personal observation on the subject:

*

Back in the mid-90’s on Highway 75 north of Hailey, there was a case where a utility contractor, perhaps thinking that he would only be there briefly, set out just a few safety cones in the general proximity of his boom truck to work on some overhead power lines. Unfortunately, this was near a blind curve in the road, and a metal support-leg from his work vehicle was protruding into the highway 1½ feet. A southbound motorist did not notice this obstruction in time to react properly; and suddenly veered, causing a horrific head-on collision. This killed a young man named Ken who was traveling north. Upon investigation, local authorities revealed that the company doing the utility work did not follow the law by carefully laying out three sets of “Workers Ahead” signs in specifically staged areas and a court found the contractor partially accountable for the damages.

*

Before Ken’s life was taken in that wreck, I had been fortunate to become briefly acquainted with him. I learned that he was a hard-working family man with two small children. And I could sense by the deep engaging way he gazed into people’s eyes, that he was a salt-of-the-earth type of individual who was genuinely interested in whatever you were up to. Sometimes in the evenings, I would hear Ken practicing tight with his band, blanketing Old Hailey with a friendly atmosphere of soft jazz notes.

*

Therefore, as Ken was a pillar of the community, for months afterward, many folks held some outrage against the contractor partially responsible for the crash. A local newspaper reported in depth on the various safety protocols workers should follow and word spread wide to all roadmen that they had best follow these rules. However, after a few months slipped by, I noticed that some workers started slacking off again from their diligent safety duties, such as not using flaggers in places where they clearly should have, or working late with insufficient lighting. Over the years, I’ve made mental notes of these irresponsible acts, sometimes seeing workers placing themselves in conditions even more dangerous than the one that killed Ken.

*

Then last year, another acquaintance was killed in a worker-zone crash on a different stretch of Highway 75. In her case, questions have arisen as to whether the workforce there posted enough advance warning, before a truck driver unsuspecting of the stopped traffic, plowed into several cars.

*

With these crashes, I like to believe my friends were something better than statistics and hope that something good can come out of their tragic cases. Although, we will always face danger on the highway; I implore our dedicated workers in the concerned spirit of Ken to do everything possible to make us safer for 2012 and beyond.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Is Idaho Power exaggerating savings on ‘smart meter’ plan?

A December 22, 2011 Mountain Express news update, reported the swift completion of Idaho Power’s smart meter installation, saying, “Idaho Power touted the cost savings and energy savings that have resulted from the initiative, including eliminating 80 vehicles from its fleet, saving on fuel and maintenance costs because employees are no longer driving 1.6 million miles per year to read meters, and eliminating access issues like locked gates and protective dogs.

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Yet, mere weeks later the power company is raising their monthly customer service charge from 4 dollars to 5 dollars – a 25% increase! What type of savings is that? This is not the first time in recent history that Idaho Power has slipped on a promise. You might recall the sleek glossy brochure they mailed when they first began implementing the smart meter switchover; which assured customers that they would be notified with a knock on the door. Comparing my own less-than-satisfactory experience with various neighbors on this, indicates that this simple courtesy often did not happen.

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Some folks across the Heartland are speculating that these new meters are emitting overly powerful amounts of microwave radiation. However, an Idaho Power rep. told the Express that our local brand of smart meter transmits personal information only over the power lines. I suppose that I can believe that for now, however; with the previous company overstatements in mind, I would be interested in learning more about how this really works.

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Meanwhile, the same neighbors I talked with earlier are now joking some that Idaho Power installed a Men-in-Black-like zapper into these innovative meters, in hopes of making consumers forget the grand savings which they promised us.

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Related link:

http://www.mtexpress.com/vu_breaking_story.php?bid=97878

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Cut off your nose; or spite your Facebook?

(draft 2)


I read with great interest about a qualitative study which indicates that given a hypothetical choice; over half of today’s youth would prefer to give up their sense of smell, rather than live without their social networks.

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I’m curious as to how this poll was conducted; because instead of giving an instant answer to such a significant dilemma, this strikes me as the type of quandary –albeit theoretical, that one should mull over wisely for a few days, before giving it a final answer.

*

Take for instance, the importance of being able to smell a fire or a gas leak before it builds up into an explosive nature. And what about spoiled food, with our smart noses ready to save us from sickness or worse? If we went nose- less, wouldn’t most of us miss the simple pleasures and familiarity of distinctive aromas emanating from friends and beloved ones?

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Smell is the sense most closely connected with our memories. When we take a healthy walk through the woods on a snowy evening feeling powerfully connected to nature, it’s a great nostalgic joy to sniff somebody’s fireplace blazing in the misty distance, which reminds us deeply of other golden times.

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With this in mind, I wonder if they thought it over a little more, if today’s younger generation would truly rather give up their good sense of smell, and prefer to paint rosy Facebook pictures? Perhaps I’m a nosy old Luddite, but I still find it startling and smell something wrong, when I see how many of our youth believe social networks are the greatest thing ever invented -even topping the fresh fragrance of warm sliced bread.


Footnotes:

http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/todays-global-youth-would-give-up-their-sense-of-smell-to-keep-their-technology-122605643.html

Cut off your nose; or spite your Facebook?

I read with great interest about a qualitative study which indicates that given a hypothetical choice; over half of today’s youth would prefer to give up their sense of smell, rather than their social networks.

*

I’m curious as to how this poll was conducted; because instead of giving an instant answer to such a significant dilemma, this strikes me as the type of quandary –albeit theoretical, that one should mull over wisely for a few days, before giving a final answer.

*

Take for instance, the importance of being able to smell a fire or a gas leak before it builds up into an explosive nature. And what about spoiled food, with our keen noses ready to save us from sickness or worse? If we went nose- less, wouldn’t most of us miss the simple pleasures and familiarity of distinctive aromas from friends and beloved ones?

*

Smell is the sense most closely connected with our memories. When we walk through the woods on a snowy evening feeling powerfully connected to nature, it’s a great nostalgic joy to sniff somebody’s fireplace burning in the distance.

*

Would today’s youth really rather give up smell, preferring to paint rosier Facebook pictures?