Distracted driving: A narrow escape highlights a problem

You might be able to avoid a pothole or know that another car is about to stop short before it does, but how can you predict a distracted driver coming down the road unaware of you?
With the advent of mobile technology, distracted driving has become more of a problem.
In fact, it is so problematic that Wilton police have undertaken a distracted driving preventive initiative.
From Monday, July 6, to Sunday, July 13, police made 56 stops for cell phone use, issuing 33 infractions, the balance being comprised of written and verbal warnings.
The police are doing what they can, but there are a lot of drivers on the road.
Ross Hand, a driver with Dial-A-Ride, was almost killed by a distracted driver on June 30.
Hand was traveling northbound on Route 7 in his Dial-A-Ride bus. He was approaching the intersection of Route 7 and School Road in the left-turn lane, about to turn onto School Road, when he saw a 2014 Audi A6 coming at him.
Hand quickly took evasive action and managed to narrowly avert a head-on collision, but there was still a serious crash.
The Audi, according to the police report, which was traveling southbound, crossed the double yellow center lines into the northbound lane and hit the Dial-A-Ride bus. The crash caused the bus’s left front tire to fall off and continue up the road for more than 142 feet on only three wheels.
The driver of the Audi was later found to have been drinking coffee and programing his GPS while driving, according to police. He was issued tickets for distracted driving and failure to drive right.
Hand, who was alone on the bus, may have saved his own life, but his bus was a different story.
“He scraped the left side of the bus and hit the rear axle, breaking it off,” Hand told The Bulletin Friday.
“I usually spend six hours a day in that bus, and I usually cover, in Wilton, about 50, 55 miles a day,” he continued. “It’s my office. It was the newest bus we had. Two years old and only 20,000 miles. It’s been out of service and we’ve been scrambling to work around it.”
“It was mindless,” said Hand. “I evaded him. If he had hit me head on, God knows what would’ve happened.”
The accident has spawned new talks about the intersection of Route 7 and School Road, which many feel to be unsafe, and may be the linchpin in getting it fixed, according to First Selectman Bill Brennan.
The issue was raised at the July 20 Board of Selectmen meeting, and all were in agreement something had to be done.
“The problem is that when you’re in that turning lane, because the road is curving, you’re looking straight at the southbound lane” said Brennan.
“It’s very scary,” he added.
“Last year, we contacted the DOT (Connecticut Department of Transportation) ... they came down and reviewed it. All they added were cat tracks, or little dotted lines that show where the lanes go. It’s still, in my opinion, not the way it should be; it’s a difficult intersection,” Brennan said.
The board feels that a more comprehensive solution is called for, especially now that Hand almost lost his life in the intersection.
“I told Bob Crosby, ‘Get the DOT down here immediately; we gotta fix this thing before someone gets killed.’ They came down here very quickly. We met with them last week. They were out on Sunday and they made some lane changes to better align the lane. They put temporary lanes so that we could see where they wanted to make the changes and we were out there this morning looking at the changes. It’s improved, but in my opinion it is still not fixed.”
Selectman Richard Dubow said, “Anything less than an optimum solution is not acceptable.”
Brennan drafted a three-page letter he will send to the Department of Transportation, requesting it take a more comprehensive look at the intersection to see what can be done to make it safer.
The intersection was also on the agenda for the Wilton Police Commission’s meeting Monday, July 20.