Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Sheriff urges safe driving as summer fun begins

Managing Editor | June 10, 2024 1:30 AM

EPHRATA — Grant County Sheriff Joey Kriete has something he wants to say to the people of the Columbia Basin — slow down.

“I’ve been working collisions for a long time in Grant County and the top factors that we have in our collisions that we investigate are speed, inattention and alcohol,” Kriete said. “And it’s not necessarily in that order, because it does change. And of those things, the only thing that’s really measurable for us is speed, and if we can address the speed issue that we have, then that’s a big win for us.”

Kriete isn’t just speaking about automobiles though. During the June recording of his segment of the STUDIO BASIN podcast — set to come out this Friday — Kriete said boater safety is a big issue as well and speed is just as important a factor. However, whether it’s an automobile, personal watercraft, sports car or dump truck, speed is a factor in nearly every collision the Grant County Sheriff’s Office investigates. He specifically called them collisions, not accidents. 

“I’m not using the word accident. I use the word collision because most collisions that happen are not accidents. They’re preventable,” he said. 

Kriete said it isn’t an accident when someone intentionally does something unsafe like speeding, driving recklessly, leaving proper safety equipment behind or operating vehicles while impaired. That makes it a collision that is completely preventable in most incidents.

With warmer weather coming on, usually cautious winter drivers push the throttle a bit further on their vehicles as they become summer drivers, Kriete said. That speed factor can make the collision fatal rather than an inconvenience like a ticket or a car repair bill.

Speeding doesn’t save a lot of time, he said, and while Grant County has a lot of straightaways that may appear safe to go a bit faster on, it also has intersections that can be very dangerous.

“Our roads are very long. They’re very straight (with) a lot of T-intersections, and we get a lot of people who don’t realize that we have the most county road miles in the state of Washington. … We have the most county road miles and to have the staff to effectively patrol those; we just don’t have it,” he said. “And so, it comes down to all of us together working to try to maintain the safety of those roadways in the summertime.” 

Not having the right safety equipment — or not using safety equipment properly — can be a problem as well, he said. 

With ground vehicles, that means keeping a first aid kit on hand, but there’s also making sure child safety seats are installed correctly, whether that’s a booster seat or a full car seat for an infant. Making sure those are installed correctly can save a child’s life. Kriete said a lot of parents don’t know how to properly install the seats so they’re locked in place. He recommended making sure the seat belt’s ratcheting device is heard and that the strap is pulled tightly. If someone will be transporting a child, they can feel free to call the Grant County Sheriff’s Department and a deputy can show them how to properly install the seat. 

Many local first response agencies such as police and fire departments offer assistance with car seat installations. Call the nearest one or call GCSO at 509-754-2011.

Kriete said boaters are required to have a life jacket for each person on their craft and can get fined for not having the correct gear on hand such as a fire extinguisher as well. However, he said GCSO deputies would prefer to educate rather than issue citations. 

“We like to go with people over their boat to make sure they’ve got all the right personal flotation devices or fire extinguishers, their sound-emitting devices, whatever it may be. And if we can go over that with people before they get in the water, that’s more of an education piece, but we don’t have to take enforcement action if you’re not in the water when we go through that inspection service that we provide,” he said. 

Kriete also wants people to be aware that it is possible to get a DUI for more than drinking and driving. Any substance that can impair the operation of a vehicle — on land or water — can result in a DUI. That includes marijuana, prescription medications and illicit substances, he said. The legalization of marijuana has led to an increase in collisions across the state. That means law enforcement takes high driving seriously.

“Because DUI isn’t just driving under the influence of alcohol,” he said. “It’s driving under the influence of intoxicants and that could be an intoxication from marijuana.”

R. Hans “Rob” Miller may be reached at editor@columbiabasinherald.com.