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Molalla: Finding safe driving solutions

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Frequent accidents on highways 211 and 213 have made Molalla the focus of a new Clackamas County safe driving program


PEGGY SAVAGE - From Left: Molalla Fire Lt. Byron Wakefield, Gary Stewart, Katie Dively of the Center for Health and Safety Culture and Nick Williams discuss the changeability of driving behavior for Molalla-area drivers during a safe-driving workshop last week.   
Molalla resident Sharon Mossman lost her husband, Tom Mossman, after he was struck by a hit-and-run driver while bicycling to a friend’s house on Highway 211.

That was five years ago, in March of 2011. Last week, Sharon Mossman decided to help find solutions to the driving behaviors that have brought injury and death to many people on highways 211 and 213 in the Molalla area.

Because Molalla has the highest traffic accident rate in the county, Clackamas County has begun a new safe driving program, using Molalla as the pilot community, said Drive to Zero Program Coordinator Patty McMillan.

Mossman was one of about 40 people who participated in a workshop called ‘Growing a Positive Traffic Safety Culture in Molalla’ on Thursday and Friday of last week.

Hosted by Molalla Communities That Care, the workshop was given in partnership with the Clackamas County Dept. of Transportation and Development. The workshop was presented by Research Scientist Jay Otto and Program Guide Katie Dively, both of Montana State University’s Center for Health and Safety Culture.

“Lynn Blatter asked if I’d like to participate in the workshop because my husband was killed in a traffic accident on Highway 211,” Mossman said. “So I am interested in seeing if we can come up with something that would help, especially when I see so many young people around here involved in car crashes.”

Mossman said she tends to think everything can be fixed. “But everyone else is saying the driving behavior here will be hard to fix. And the fireman (Lt. Byron Wakefield) is saying this can’t be fixed unless everyone works together. That changed my perspective.”

ive to Zero Coordinator Patty McMillan and Joe Marek, the Transportation Safety Program Manager at Clackamas County Department of Transportation and Development, were participants.

Workshop presenter Jay Otto described the goal of the workshop.

“The real intent of this workshop is to bring interested stakeholders together to share their knowledge, to develop a shared understanding, and to prioritize what the issues are concerning traffic safety in this community, “Otto said.

During one segment of Friday’s workshop, Otto split the group of about 25 people up into small discussion groups to talk about the changeability of Molalla area drivers, using data-driven decision making. Group members were given a sheet that listed a wide variety of unsafe driving behaviors, such as speeding, being distracted, etc., and deciding whether behaviors in each area could be changed through education and training. The question was: How changeable is the behavior in this community right now?

The goal of the conversations was to learn from the wisdom of others.

“This is not a debate,” Otto told the groups. “This is a dialog between each other. There is no right answers. The goal is to select each behavior, and how serious would be the consequences of that behavior, and discuss it as a group.”

PEGGY SAVAGE - From Left: Kirsten Ingersoll, Molalla Police Sgt. Frank Schoenfeld and Lynn Blatter share opinions in a small group discussion during last week's workshop, held at the Molalla Fire Station.
“Nobody starts out driving in the morning saying, ‘I’m gonna crash today,’” noted one of the participants during his group discussion.

Regarding pedestrian and bicycle crashes on highways 211 and 213, Molalla Fire District Lt. Byron Walkefield said “It’s a roadway issue. There’s no place for bicyclists to ride.”

Of all the driving behaviors that need changing, Wakefield said he saw the most hope in changing poor driving habits among teens and teaching good driving behaviors to kids still too young to drive.

“”I think we can make a change there with education,” Wakefield said. “They can learn ‘don’t get behind the wheel when you’ve been drinking’ from their parents. I’d be there quick if my son called and said he needed a ride home. I’d be glad to do it – and take his friends home too.”

Wakefied said he thinks If we put the emphasis on educating teens and kids on proper driving behaviors, that will eventually improve safety on the roads as they become adults.

Another participant was Molalla Police Sgt. Frank Schoenfeld, who talked a bit on how the small group discussions helped participants learn from each other regarding the possibility of people changing their driving behaviors.

“Our interpretations are so different,” Schoenfeld said of those involved in the discussions.

Otto agreed. “This work, making meaning out of the data, is important work,” Otto said. “The only way is to talk about the data. A lot of what we talk about is clarifying perceptions.”