Bill Swope will be recovering from the crash he was involved in earlier this year for some time. He has had some touch-and-go moments since the incident but is now riding on the road to recovery. And his most silver of linings from the crash would be realized if the state went ahead and lowered the speed limit on Minnesota Highway 23, the road the semi was on when it hit the Cadillac Swope was driving. That's all he wants.
And he's not alone.
If you poll 100 Marshall residents, it's hard to say how many would want the speed limit lowered. Fifty? Sixty? Seventy? Safe to say, the majority would be in favor of it, but it depends on whom you ask. The Independent polled our readers on the topic in June. To date, the running poll has 596 respondents; all but 200 of them, or 66 percent, say leave it alone.
They've obviously never been in a crash on that road.
The local transportation group has worked diligently on safety issues on the highway for some time; no one can deny safety is a huge concern there, most notably at the intersections with county roads, city streets and other highways. On the surface, it's the same highway as it was 10 years ago, but its surroundings are much different today, and I'd bet there's more traffic.
Changes taking place on the highway in the coming years will help matters, but we have an issue at play here that has nothing to do with how the city has expanded on that side of town, nothing to do with how much more traffic there is compared to decades ago and nothing to do with overpasses and low-conflict intersections: We're just bad drivers. More than just bad, we're distracted, we have tempers, we're lazy and some of us think we own the roads.
If you want to know why our roads don't seem as safe as they used to be, take a look in your review mirror. It's our own fault.
A couple days ago as I was waiting for the light to go green so I could cross 23 and proceed out of town on 59, I found myself between a truck to my left and a car to my right. The driver to my left was using the steering wheel to rest his phone on as he feverishly texted. The driver to my right was scrolling on her smart phone. The light turned green. I pulled away. They didn't - not until someone honked at them - the equivalent to tapping them on their shoulder and telling them to wake up.
Dropping the speed limit would be great, but getting it done is a task. Swope told me if it takes 5,000 names on a petition, that's what he'll get. I say, more power to him. MnDOT says a loaded petition to the city would help, but it wouldn't guarantee a change.
"It doesn't hurt to have a petition," MnDOT District 8 Traffic Engineer Ryan Barney said. "We don't necessarily base (a change of the speed limit) off that kind of push. We base it off a speed study."
A speed study, basically a baby step to changing the speed limit and one that would have to be requested by a city or county, examines all aspects of a stretch of highway - the current speed there, characteristics of the road, land use along the corridor. Those factors together determine whether or not the state would change the speed limit.
I will be the first to shake Bill's hand if he leads the charge to shave 10 or 15 miles off the speed limit on that stretch - hell, I'll even give him a hug - but in the meantime, there are things we can all do to improve matters.
Yes, we speed, but we've always sped. If the cops took our cars away for speeding we'd all be Schwinning it to work. The real problem is there's too much to do behind the wheel today and we choose to do it. Used to be, the most we had to concern ourselves with while driving was turning the radio up or adjusting a mirror. Today, we multitask by doing any one of the following while driving: applying makeup, eating, reading, texting, scrolling and tapping. Good thing no one invented a rotary cell phone. This 24/7 connectivity is getting absurd. Do you bring your phone in the shower with you?
Don't answer that.
We'll never come to a point in our lifetimes where all drivers set their cruise at 55 and keep their hands at 10 and 2. As long as the technology that comes with today's vehicles - and with the gadgets we buy and place on our dashboards - is around, our attention to the road and to others using it will always be lured from where it should be: straight ahead. Tell me we're not getting to the point where driving is distracting us from fiddling with the phone, and not the other way around. Sound crazy? You're right, it is.
"Slow down" is grand advice to give to any driver, especially our kids, but what we also must tell them - and remind ourselves of - is to put the phone in their pocket, or the glove compartment. Or let a passenger hold it and play secretary for you.
We're playing a dangerous game on our highways. Not only are we going too fast, we're not even looking where we're going.