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Molalla kicks off safe driving program

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According to statistics, Molalla has the highest rate of traffic crashes in Clackamas County. With that in mind, Clackamas County selected Molalla to pilot the Drive to Zero program.

PEGGY SAVAGE - Gary Stewart, of Rural Development Initiatives, addresses the Drive to Zero Town Hall Thursday. Patty McMillan, of Clackamas County Dept. of Transportation  and  Molalla River MIddle School teacher Albert Garcia, of Todos Juntos, are to his right.
It would be great if the editor of the Pioneer could place this headline on the front page of the newspaper on a regular basis: "Everybody drove home safely this week."

Sadly, that is not the case.

But with the help of Clackamas County, the Molalla Fire District and the University of Montana, a Molalla group is working on finding a way to make it true through the Drive to Zero program.

Molalla people gathered with officials from the county and various safety-minded organizations in the first Drive to Zero Town Hall Thursday evening.

It wasn't a huge crowd – maybe 20 people in all – but on the minds of everyone in that room was finding ways to reduce the number of car crashes in the Molalla area.

Lynn Blatter, of Molalla Communities That Care, organized the event.

"We want this to be a community-led effort to reduce fatal and serious injury traffic crashes," Blatter told the group.

Between 2009 and 2014, 914 traffic crashes took place on Molalla area roads, including highways 211 and 213. And 41 of those crashes resulted in serious injuries, with 21 crashes resulting in fatalities.

The area involved includes everything within the Molalla Fire District, from Union Hall Road on the north to Canby-Marquam Highway on the west and the Molalla River Corridor on the south and east.

"We drive with trust that those other drivers will do what they are supposed to do," Blatter said.

PEGGY SAVAGE - Lynn Blatter, third from left, leads a discussion at the Drive to Zero Town Hall in Molalla Thursday night. According to statistics, Molalla has the highest rate of traffic crashes in Clackamas County. With that in mind, Clackamas County selected Molalla to pilot the Drive to Zero program.

Last year community leaders and county staff met to make this community a safer place to drive. Building on the county's Drive to Zero program, (a safe driving program) they started Molalla Drive to Zero.

At the meeting Thursday, Joseph Marek, the county traffic engineering supervisor, said it is dangerous drivers who make dangerous roads.

Marek said that as an engineer, he works to develop safe roads.

"I continue to engineer a way to zero" he said. "But I know accidents won't get to zero if people are still going to crash. I want to gather people to see if we can make changes and do it as a community."

He said the question is: How do we change the driving culture in a community?

"That's how we ended up out here in Molalla," he said. "Because this community is engaged as a community. So we want to change the driving culture by a grassroots movement."

The county engaged the services of the Montana State University Center for Health and Safety.

"Their specialty is looking at safety cultures in a community," Marek said. The MU team provided the technical support and data to guide the Drive to Zero group through the process of creating a positive culture.

"This will be a seven-step strategy, and I am here for the long haul," Marek said, noting that the number of traffic crashes in the Molalla area increases every year.

"There is a need to continue bringing attention to fatal crashes," he said.

Gary Stewart, the senior program manager for Rural Development Initiatives, told the group that the issues contributing to injury and death in traffic crashes are mainly speeding, following too close and excessive passing.

"We can concentrate on these three as aggressive driving," he said. "They've asked us to focus on aggressive driving, which means speed. People are always in a hurry. It's a societal thing."

He said probably 90 percent of local drivers would agree that the road between Oregon City and Molalla should be four lanes.

"The problem with roads is a big governmental issue," he said. "They are giving out permits to build and expand apartment complexes and subdivisions in Molalla, but not the roads to accommodate the larger population."

There doesn't appear to be much that local drivers can do to stop governmental decisions that increase populations without providing the roads and resources needed.

PEGGY SAVAGE - A group of community members participated in the discussion at the Drive to Zero Town Hall, which was conducted by Lynn Blatter of Molalla Communities that Care, Joe Marek, Clackamas County traffic engineering supervisor (in blue shirt, center) and representatives from other health and safety organizations.
But both men agreed that probably 99 percent of all crashes are caused by the choices drivers make when they are at the wheel.

It's our own choices we are making that make a difference," said Albert Garcia of Todos Juntos. "A big part of this is changing behaviors with young people. They are always in a hurry."

Patty McMillan of Clackamas County Transportation said that "As a society, we need to start taking responsibility for our actions, and this is what we are trying to do in a posibive way with our community."

In a brainstorming session led by Stewart, participants at the town hall shared ideas on how to help create a positive driving culture in Molalla and why they showed up Thursday night at the meeting. Everyone there had a personal reason for hoping to see a reduction in the number of serious injury and fatal crashes in the Molalla area.

This meeting is the first step towards reaching our goal

A survey is being developed that will go out in May to drivers in the Molalla area. The blind survey of 1,200 households in Molalla and Mulino will be prefaced by a letter to the households explaining what the survey is about.

The Montana State University staff will collate the information from the survey.

"Then with the results of the survey will have the information to start developing strategies," Stewart said. "The more information we get will make it easier to come up with effective strategies. Then next year we will focus on implementing the strategies. This is a long-range process that will take years."