Let’s all stay safe this holiday weekend

This Labor Day weekend signifies the winding down of summer. Children and young adults return to their respective schools or venture off to new buildings and surroundings. It always seems like a rushed weekend as we all try to squeeze a few more days out of summer. Unfortunately, feeling rushed and distractions of all sorts can lead to tragic consequences on the highway. Through August, 212 people have been killed on Iowa’s highways. This is a statewide increase of 18 deaths over last year. Sadly, some 40 percent of those killed were not using available safety belts. This simple act of clicking your seat belt can save so many occupants, family and friends from needless suffering. We have experienced the most deadly August since 2010 with 46 traffic-related fatalities. Nearly all of these deaths were completely preventable by simply following those basic tenets of driving that we all, too easily, ignore.

Buckle up – every trip and every time. Drive at a prudent speed taking into account posted speed limits, weather conditions and traffic volumes. Stop completely at all stop signs and stop lights. Look twice both ways and proceed only when it is safe. Avoid drunk and drugged driving and report those who exhibit suspicious driving habits. And maybe most importantly, put away the countless distractions and keep your focus on the roadway. The most prominent of these is your cellphone or smartphone. While there isn’t much legislative interest in passing a ban of their use by drivers of vehicles on the roadway, that doesn’t make the practice one bit safe. Common sense alone should guide us to set them down until we arrive at our destination or are safely parked off of the traveled portion of the roadway. While these statewide numbers are troubling, we’ve been more successful in the seven-county, District No. 7 region. Any traffic death is far too many, but in 2015 we’ve experienced eight traffic deaths stemming from just six fatality collisions. This is less than 4 percent of the statewide total and a number our Troopers are striving to drive down even further.

We are coming to the end of our 18-month High Five campaign in conjunction with the local Sheriff’s Department and the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau to address seat belt compliance and major-injury collisions in Webster County. We are proud to report that the seat belt compliance rate is up and collisions are down over this 18-month project. Our challenge is now to take those steps to build upon this success. As motorists, you can help dramatically by simply following the basic, common-sense rules of the road. The Iowa State Patrol remains focused on utilizing enforcement, education and engineering to make your travels as safe as possible. We hope you’ll consider these truly lifesaving tips when you set out on the highway.

This is an exciting year at District No. 7 as we’ve added two new Troopers for the first time since 2007. Trooper Jesse Davenport, in Fort Dodge, and Trooper Jacob Johnson, in Clarion, are just concluding their training protocols and are excited to be a part of our District family. This additional support is a great benefit to our traffic safety efforts and we wish them long and safe careers as state Troopers.

As all are keenly aware, this is a challenging time in law enforcement. It is a challenging time for our city, state and country, also. So many nearly uncontrollable influences in social media and instant communication make squeezing the truth into all the opinions even more difficult. Rhetoric quickly turns to hate speech that should make none of us proud. We can all do better. We are all much better. We are much better peace officers. We are much better citizens. Problems don’t get solved by shouting the loudest or being the most outraged. They will only get truly solved when we work together for common solutions. When we can look at one another in an effort to understand and appreciate our commonalities and our stark divergences. They are societal, economic, educational, geographic and real. But though they are true differences, they need not divide us.

We should all strive for safe communities. Urban, rural, residential, business, street or highway; all citizens deserve to feel safe in their homes and safe in their travels. We oftentimes give up too quickly and turn to rebellion or simply throw up our hands in frustration. The solutions lie in our, collectively, taking the next step past that point. To be willing to sacrifice a bit of our own positions in order to better understand our neighbors. It is not enough to simply build a bridge across our divides. We all must be willing to walk all the way across that bridge to better understand the environments of others.

It is an incredibly difficult time to be a law enforcement officer. It has never been more dangerous. The unknowns have never been greater. We have a tactical advantage in almost no circumstance in which we ask our Troopers, officers, deputies and agents to enter. Just last month, a Texas deputy was gunned down by 15 bullets while pumping gas in his patrol vehicle for the simple reason he happened to drive a police car for work. Eleven peace officers have been slain in two weeks across this country. Each followed immediately by shouts of whose lives matter. All of them. All lives matter. Blue, black, white – all are precious and all irreplaceable. We must do better in reaching out to those we’ve sworn to protect. Citizens must do better in helping themselves live in safe communities by, both, watching our neighborhoods for that which seems out of the norm and reporting the facts about crimes to which they may have witnessed or may have important information. The first role of all governments: city, county, state or federal is to provide for the safety of its citizens. But your government can only do so much. Much of this responsibility is a shared one between law enforcement and the public.

It is my wish that each of you will carefully consider that responsibility. Pointing fingers of blame is exceedingly easy. Committing to lasting solutions is much more difficult. If we all just do a little bit, the outcome can truly be evident in a very positive way. Our area police chiefs, sheriffs and myself are all blessed with amazing police officers. To daily witness their sacrifice and courage is humbling and a source of immense pride. They put on a ballistic vest, climb into a patrol car and do what they can to keep you living in a safer community. Certainly, reacting to crime is important in apprehending criminals. But preventing crime and being more successful in apprehending existing criminals will only be positively impacted if we all work together in the common interest of bettering that place we all call home. The Iowa State Patrol is proud to celebrate our 80th year of existence in 2015. We will endeavor always to stay true to our motto of “Courtesy, Service, Protection” in our important duties.

Lt. Kelly Hindman is commander of District No. 7, Iowa State Patrol.