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In My Opinion

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Next storm, heed warnings, stay home

By Fannie Flono
Associate Editor
Jack Betts
Fannie Flono writes on news, politics and life in The Carolinas. Her column appears on the Editorial pages of The Charlotte Observer.

On Thursday, even tow drivers who stand to make a mint this week in increased business were pleading with drivers to stay at home. “You’re putting my life in danger,” lamented one in a television interview.

Even as he said that, cars could be seen in the background, drivers clearly ignoring the sentiment.

That’s pretty much why North Carolina mimicked Atlanta in the massive snow storm that came roaring through over the past couple of days. Despite repeated and early warnings of the coming deluge from weather forecasters, and pleas well before the storm from public officials to stay home, many took to the streets and highways anyway.

Thus, that humiliating scene from Atlanta of motorists stuck in stalled traffic for hours and then finally abandoning their vehicles in desperation that had been seared in people’s mind two weeks ago is now the Tar Heel state’s burden to bear.

Atlanta-area residents at least had public officials to blame. Officials have admitted their lack of preparedness and coordination, even though the earlier storm had been forecast well in advance. Georgia officials made up for that lapse this week. People were warned to stay off the street – and unlike here in North Carolina – they did, limiting the number of emergency calls and vehicle accidents.

No one was stranded here for 24 hours or more as they were in Georgia. But most of those in Charlotte and other N.C. cities who were gridlocked in traffic during the storm can’t foist responsibility on anyone but themselves. They should have stayed at home, as they were instructed.

Part of the problem is businesses who put pressure on employees by threatening loss of jobs or pay to come to work in dire conditions. Part of the problem is also residents who believe they can drive in any kind of weather because of the kind of vehicle they own or the places where they lived that endure the same or worse weather conditions a lot more.

Bad policies, bad attitudes. The tow truck driver’s lament is apt. You’re putting lives at risk – and making the work of emergency personnel more difficult. As of Thursday morning, officials had responded to more than 2,800 emergencies statewide, about 1,900 of them traffic accidents.

I couldn’t help but shake my head in amazement at the stalled cars on Independence Boulevard in Charlotte. It’s the highway I use – and try to avoid whenever possible – for my commute to and from my house in Matthews. Even on sunny days, it’s what I call the Hell Highway. People drive like maniacs, talk on the phone and put on makeup during morning and afternoon rush hours. Traffic often slows to a crawl or comes to a standstill during peak times. And then there’s the occasional pedestrian who likes to dart unexpectedly across three lanes of traffic because of the lack of convenient crosswalks. Construction to widen the highway hasn’t helped.

So who in their right mind would venture out in a snow storm on Independence?

Sadly, there’s some truth to that saying “too dumb to get out of the cold.” Georgians wised up after their poor decision-making in face of a terrible storm. Next time, will we in North Carolina?

Email: fflono@charlotteobserver.com
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