CRESTVIEW — A recent spate of traffic crashes has the Crestview Police Department imploring motorists to be more vigilant and avoid distracted driving practices while behind the wheel during the summer driving season.
"It's like bumper cars out there!" Officer Nate Marlar said following the third wreck of the day on June 9.
Two wrecks at John King Road and State Road 85/Ferdon Boulevard South and another at Goodwin Avenue and S.R. 85 kept officers hopping on a morning complicated by multiple police units doing traffic control for a gas leak at the Tractor Supply shopping center.
A caller reported the first wreck of the day at 7:06 a.m., and said a black pick-up truck ran a red light and was struck by a silver Dodge Ram pickup, sending two or more people to North Okaloosa Medical Center with injuries.
The wreck blocked westbound John King Road traffic and the outside northbound lane of S.R. 85, which required that it be rerouted through the Tom Thumb gas station parking lot. The wreck was cleared and the roads reopened around 8:30 a.m.
At 12:09 p.m., the Police Dispatch Center received another accident call the Goodwin Avenue crash involving a red Kia and a green Nissan. The Crestview Fire Department reported to the scene as a precaution when possible fuel leakage was reported. Traffic was flowing within 25 minutes.
While officers were divided between the Goodwin Avenue accident and securing the scene of the gas leak on U.S. Highway 90, the second John King Road wreck of the day was called in at 12:52. Three vehicles were involved, reported Officer Michael Tingle, who responded to all three wrecks.
Responders cleared that wreck in about 38 minutes.
Marlar said all three wrecks had a common cause.
"Nobody's paying attention. Everybody's distracted," he said, adding though social media comments blame the design of the intersections or length of the traffic lights, many of the wrecks are in fact rear-end collisions caused by drivers who are simply not paying attention to the road.
Until distracted driving is elevated to a primary offense, drivers can expect more accidents from people more engaged with texting and phone calls than they are with their driving, Police Chief Tony Taylor said.
"Right now there's not a lot of consequences for texting while driving," he said. "It's a secondary offense. We have to catch them doing something else wrong to pull them over."
And despite what some may think, more accidents occur in nice weather than on inclement days, Marlar said.
"It's nothing to have eight or nine wrecks on bright, sunny days," he said. "People seem to pay closer attention when it's raining. We only get one or two wrecks in the rain."
Such distracted driving doesn't just affect other drivers stuck in the traffic back-up that results from an accident. Every driver feels the pain — in their wallets.
"Everybody's insurance goes sky-high," Marlar said. "Insurance companies base their rates on the number of accidents in a community."