Our Views: Bad roads, or bad drivers

When the state’s top highway official was asked about a new report showing Louisiana’s drivers are the nation’s worst, she had some good answers, at least to a point. As Sherri LeBas told the Press Club of Baton Rouge, the Department of Transportation and Development has worked for several years on highway safety.

Massive interstate widening projects in the Baton Rouge metropolitan area and in St. Tammany Parish are intended not only to ease travel but to cut accidents, LeBas said. And that is not counting the miles of wire barriers installed in recent years to prevent cars from careening across medians into opposing lanes of traffic.

Is it working? To some extent, as the number of drivers killed in cars in Louisiana last year was down.

The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission reported that automobile deaths were at 457 in 2012, down from 467 the year before. However, the reduction was offset by an increase in pedestrian and bicycle deaths, up from 93 in 2011 to 121 in 2012.

And much of that loss of life can be laid to the responsibility of poor drivers.

LeBas said that the state is spending about $90 million on restoring state highways in the New Orleans area that were damaged by the series of hurricanes and flooding caused by the collapse of the city’s levees. Those streets are being rebuilt with enhancements, such as bike paths and sidewalks.

That kind of progress will doubtless help to reduce the casualties for bicyclists and pedestrians. Still, poor driving is an issue. Louisiana was said to have the worst drivers in America, in a report from CarInsuranceComparison.com. The site said factors driving up the price of insurance include not only the number of fatalities but also the number of tickets issued, drunk driving, carelessness, and failure to obey the rules.

True, some of the data might be influenced by heavier enforcement in some jurisdictions, but there are few regular drivers in most of the Bayou State who would be willing to contest the overall judgment about how poorly many of us act on the road.

As a mother of a 15-year-old, LeBas noted that issue of personal responsibility.

On the positive side, she was impressed with how much driver’s ed had done for her teenager’s awareness of hazards on the road.

But as a busy head of a busy department, she said the impulse to be constantly on the cell phone is hard to break — and that is one of the distracted-driver issues that her son was taught about.

“We all have to set a good example for our children,” she noted, and we hope that in this holiday season, in which family is supposed to be paramount, that parents look at their own behavior, and how it is a good or bad lesson for the young drivers of tomorrow.