A vehicle crash last week that ended the lives of four people, including three members of a Patterson family, serves as a tragic reminder of how a mistake on the road can turn deadly in seconds.
With Labor Day weekend approaching, authorities wanted to remind drivers they need to maintain awareness at all times while on the road.
More vehicles are expected to crowd the roads over the holiday weekend, so drivers should leave home a little earlier to ensure an on-time arrival, said Modesto police Sgt. Brian Findlen.
"With increased traffic comes increased frustration," said Findlen, a supervisor with the department's traffic unit. "The ultimate goal is getting to your destinations safely."
The warnings came a few days after a van ran a stop sign just east of Patterson and struck a sport utility vehicle, killing three family members and seriously injuring a fourth.
The van's driver, James Edward Rowell, 40, of Patterson, also was pronounced dead at the scene. The California Highway Patrol was still investigating the crash.
Findlen said drivers who run stop signs are usually running late and fail to make a complete stop. He said rolling stops are just as dangerous, and there's not much time for other drivers to react.
"On average, you have 1.5 seconds to visually perceive and respond to what's occurring in front of you," Findlen said. "There's really a little margin of error."
Last week, Findlen pulled over a woman driving 45 mph in a 25-mph speed limit zone. Her excuse for driving so fast: She was late to pick up her daughter at a middle school.
He said every 10 to 15 mph over the speed limit will significantly increase the risk of a crash. Add alcohol or drugs to that equation and the results are deadly.
"It can wipe out a life in a split-second," Findlen said. "Driving under the influence is a 100 percent preventable crime."
Law enforcement officials in Stanislaus County are warning residents to designate a sober driver while celebrating Labor Day.
Officials are in the middle of a two-week countywide effort to curb drunken driving. The effort is part of the "Avoid the 12" campaign, which includes all 12 law enforcement agencies in the county. So far, 54 people have been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
Maximum enforcement Friday
Sobriety checkpoints and saturation patrols will continue through the holiday weekend to look for impaired drivers. The CHP's maximum enforcement period, which places additional officers on the road, will start Friday evening.
Holiday travelers should leave their homes well rested to stay alert on the road, said officer Chuck Leon, a CHP spokesman.
"Make sure you're not tired," Leon said. "Fatigue can work against you."
He said a tired driver could fail to notice road signs and other vehicles on the road. Distractions inside the vehicle can also play a big role in a crash.
"Don't mess with that GPS or cell phone while you're driving," Leon said. "Pull over and input your coordinates or use your phone."
Don't follow vehicles too closely, he said, and keep the speed down. The slower you're driving, the easier it is to stop.
"Don't stare at the road right in front of you," Leon said. "Keep your eyes moving, and stay aware of everything around you."
Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 578-2394.