Safe Communities was a national initiative over the past 10 years - five in Augusta - funded by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The money was state-administered and the Coalitions varied, but all had a similar mission: to reduce traffic injury and death through community volunteer effort.
In Georgia there are currently six Safe Communities grants: Albany, Columbus, and four Atlanta counties. Safe Communities Coalition Augusta (SCCA) was the first in Georgia to become independent of tax dollars. This is a challenge for meetings, mailings and projects costs. Meetings are held the third Tuesday at noon every month at the Richmond County Health Department at 1916 North Leg Road in Augusta.
Current officers provided traffic safety advocacy even before joining the Coalition. Jeff Tilley, an Augusta State University Public Safety officer who is chairman of the SCCA, planned many school-related events for child safety seats and seatbelt usage. Paulette Chambers, director of the Paine College Institute of Highway Safety and vice chairman of the SCCA, distributed booster seats and provided alcohol education to teens and young adults. Jesse Smith, coalition secretary, wrote letters to the editor and legislators since his disabling crash, caused by a woman using a cell phone. Mescal Roe, treasurer since 2001, volunteers at the blood center, AARP and League of Women Voters.
Dr. Jeff Runge, who now heads NHTSA, was one of the original pioneers in the Safe Communities concept, and formed an active Coalition in Greenville, N.C. Traffic safety initiatives are to be based on the Four Es: Education, Engineering, Enforcement, and Emergency Medical Services. As the first coordinator for the SCCA, I am providing a summary of traffic injury prevention shortfalls citizens can help with.
Traffic Engineering: Augusta must recognize the need to properly staff the department (two traffic engineers and four technicians). Citizens are needed who will advocate for a stronger, more decisive city government, where the hiring and firing authority is not weighed down by compromise and discussions among 10 commissioners. Traffic Engineering does not fall under Public Works in most cities.
Public Works has the authority to assist Traffic Engineering. What will they do with the traffic injury database from SCCA? Demographics and locations/injury severity need to be reported, then analyzed. More than twice as many people died in the CSRA from traffic compared to homicides, yet the only agency studying these causes is now gone (SCCA).
Local media can then provide coverage of this data to educate the public by showing the photographs of those who die every year, and listing the causes. This was done for the children who died in Columbia County in 2002.
Education: The SCCA became the first agency to provide Aggressive Driving Awareness to high school students taking health or fitness. The lesson plan was provided to 25 teachers this spring to continue this two-hour instruction. Ask teachers if traffic injury prevention is part of their health or science curriculum.
Enforcement: Road patrols are the most cost-effective way to control crime (Peoria Experience, NHTSA, 1996). Ask if road patrols are maintained, and about the types of traffic violations being ticketed per year. Increasing traffic will mean patrols as well as citations should increase. Report aggressive drivers.
Emergency Medical Services: The efficiency of EMS is related to funding, staffing, training, standardization of procedures and morale. You can become an involved citizen by asking questions such as How long does it take the ambulance to get to my house and then to the hospital?; following legislation that affects EMS; and making sure your home address is marked with 3-inch numbers.
Above all, you can take the time to drive defensively yourself. Study the 2000 Georgia Drivers Manual, and take a defensive driving course such as the 55 Alive course from Senior Friends. Use public transit to reduce congestion. Let families know that the Health Department provides weekly child safety seat classes (as long as seats are available) at phone 667-4241.
Write letters to the editor to speak out on seatbelts, child safety seats, aggressive driving, cell phone use while driving, the helmet law, underage drinking, alcohol ordinances, and drinking and driving.
In the community, support groups that promote traffic safety include SCCA, MADD, the Citizens Advisory Committee, and Safe Kids. The SCCA is the only 501C3 nonprofit organization with no governmental or any other grant funding, and is totally dependent on charitable donations. Call Jeff Tilley at the ASU Public Safety Office or email mtilley at aug.edu for more information.
(Before relocating to the Midwest from her former Martinez home, Priscilla Bence was coordinator of the Safe Communities Coalition.)
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