Monday, August 13, 2001

Drivers, not roads,
cause accidents

The issue: After two fatal accidents, a
neighborhood board blames the highway.

Driving a car requires the complete attention of the person behind the wheel. Unfortunately, even with the most observant motorists, accidents happen and people die. In the aftermath, the public asks what caused this tragic loss? The answer, however, often misses the mark, as it did last week.

Three people died in two accidents along a stretch of Kamehameha Highway in Pearl City. The Pearl City Neighborhood Board contends that the roadway is dangerous and the accidents are the result. The board's concern about the highway is justified. But the accidents had more to do with hazardous drivers than hazardous conditions, police say.

The driver in the first accident had been speeding and running red lights before his SUV ran into another car, hit a curb and crashed into a building, killing himself and a passenger. The accident took place at about 1 a.m. when traffic was light. In the other accident, the driver of a van switched lanes during rush hour and collided with a bus he apparently didn't see.

In both cases, the cause was "more driver error than anything else," said Lt. Bennett Martin of the Honolulu Police Department's Traffic Division.

Driving too fast is among the most prevalent causes of accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Here in Honolulu, HPD issued 35,386 citations in 1999 for speeding and more than 20,000 tickets for other "aggressive driving" violations, such as ignoring red lights and stop signals or driving too close to other vehicles.

Giving out tickets isn't the goal, says HPD's Major Jeffrey Owens. The laws are there "to get people to slow down. When you're moving several thousand pounds of steel and rubber, you have to maintain control of the car."

Even on a twisting highway like Kaukonahua Road, where three teenagers died in a crash last April, it is up to drivers to know the limits of the road and their ability. After that accident, the public demanded that the road be fixed, but in that case again, the driver was speeding.

Where hazards exist, they should be adjusted to make a road safer. However, no amount of fixing will make driving accident free if motorists don't do their part. "You can always blame the road, or the rain or potholes, or whatever," Owens said. "Ultimately, the awesome responsibility for safety lies with the driver."

Well said.

California is cautious on
death with dignity

The issue: The California Supreme Court
has ruled that life support may be
withdrawn from a dying patient only if
there is "clear and convincing" evidence
that the patient so wishes.

Dying with dignity, like abortion and stem-cell research, is among the most troubling of the moral, legal and emotional issues confronting America today. These are questions about which men and women of good will and thoughtful conscience hold deeply conflicting beliefs. Now comes a Supreme Court of California ruling, 6-0, on the side of caution, and rightly so.

Robert Wendland was seriously injured in an automobile accident in 1993 and was in a twilight between life and death but unable to communicate his desires. His mother Florence wanted his life support to continue but his wife Rose, their children and his brother argued that Robert would have opted for death rather than life in a vegetative state or coma. They sought a court order permitting doctors to remove the tubes.

The case became moot when Robert died of pneumonia after the court had heard arguments. Even so, the court pressed on to clarify the law for others. It ruled that those seeking to end life support must have "clear and convincing" evidence that the person in question would wish to die. In particular, the court ruled that conversations between Robert and his family did not constitute sufficient evidence that he preferred to die if he landed in a coma.

These are heart-rending predicaments for the family of an incapacitated person. Every instinct is to hope for survival. Morality and legality alike argue for the preservation of life. But to witness the pain and suffering -- and they are not the same thing -- of the loved one can be unbearable. An understandable desire to relieve the patient of torment grows stronger with each passing day.

How then to know what to do, how to decide what is best for the patient; most important, how to know what that person would wish for himself? And how to prevent mistakes or abuse? The California court determined that the wishes of the suffering person should be paramount.

The lesson for everyone in this, regardless of moral or emotional judgments, is to make your wishes known, to provide family, doctors and courts with unequivocal evidence of what those wishes are. A written and notarized statement would seem appropriate and would relieve the family and friends left behind of an excruciating decision.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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