Northwest NEWS

November 2, 1998


Editorial Opinion

Stop! Red light means stop; green light means go

   Last week, someone who didn't understand the elementary concept above took a woman's life.

   Sandra Melendrez's spinal cord was severed after a man drove through a red light and struck her car as she pulled out onto Bothell Way (State Route 522) in Kenmore.
   Harborview Hospital spokesman Larry Zalin said Sandra never had a chance, calling the injury "unsurvivable."
   After hitting Sandra, the man drove off. The Washington State Patrol is asking for help locating the suspect. His late 1990s light-colored Ford 4X4 pickup truck has reportedly been located, but he is still at large. The Woodinville Weekly urges anyone with information to call (425) 649-4370.
   But it wasn't just one man who couldn't fathom what red and green have come to mean to us. We are all to blame. It wasn't his idea alone to run the light. He probably saw us do it. It's a circular problem.
   Sit at any signalized intersection and you'll invariably see someone speed up on the yellow, just enter the intersection after the red and barrel across. Meanwhile, the fellow trying to turn left has pulled halfway through and has to wait for them to clear so they can make it through, by now on a red.
   And sometimes the car or two behind them sneaks through as well. Those who then have the green, have that much less time to get through the intersection, forcing those to the rear of that line to either enter on the yellow or just go through the red.
   So why do we do it? We all seem to have less time nowadays. Everyone is in a perpetual hurry, ourselves no exception. We hurry to get to work on time, to get home for dinner or to take the kids to soccer practice. We also hurry to less than necessary places like the video store, the coffee shop or the fast-food joint.
   Multiply that by the millions living in the Puget Sound basin and that's a lot of people scurrying around on self-imposed quests to get there, anywhere, as quickly as possible.
   Police say those they pull over for running red lights are fully aware of their actions. We give them excuses like, "I figured I could make it," according to Woodinville Police Chief Ken Wardstrom.
   Blowing through lights is a problem Wardstrom says he's seen increasing.
   "People don't have the patience, which is why we have road rage and things like this," says Wardstrom, a 29-year veteran of the King County Sheriff's Office.
   He says speeders don't speed because they're late; they're just in a hurry.
   Why do we speed? We consider our own time valuable and not worthy of sitting in traffic. We want to provide more quality time or have more free time for ourselves.
   But consider Sandra's case; wasn't another human's life more valuable than our own stupid haste?
   Few of us probably knew Sandra, a nurse, mother and grandmother of four. But we are less because of her senseless loss.
   We could be more. We need to stop this before more of us die.
   The legislature has saddled law enforcement with new rules which the police call "unfunded mandates." We can't put an officer at every intersection, but perhaps we can put cameras there to record the licenses of those who fly through, then send them a ticket.
   Our insurance companies would be interested, and a little richer, when they learn more about our driving habits. But are we so stupid that the only way we'll change is if we're hit in the pocketbook?
   Perhaps, instead, we could start obeying the laws. Heck, maybe we should even consider the yellow as a red light and stop then.
   When you see the foul gestures and cuss words mouthed in the rear-view mirror, think instead of the smile a mother has when her teenage child or husband makes it home, or a grandparent's glee to see their grandchildren.
   Sandra's family expected to see her home at the end of the day, but won't ever again.