Commonwealth Journal

December 23, 2013

SPD offers holiday safety tips

by Chris Harris
Commonwealth Journal

Somerset —

You better watch out ... you better make a list and check it twice ... because there are things you need to know to have a safe and secure holiday.
For those folks running around doing their last minute Christmas shop-ping, and for those on the road to visit friends and relatives, things can get a little dicey sometimes. But there are ways to prevent the worst-case scenario.
Capt. Shannon Smith of the Somerset Police Department noted that few things are more tempting to would-be thieves than visible items in your car when out at the stores.
“Don’t leave valuables in view in your vehicle,” he advised. “Women’s purses are a target for thieves, usually because they can see them inside the vehicle. The usually have a pretty good idea of what they’re getting once they get inside. If things of value are completely out of sight, or stored in the trunk, it’s less tempting for thieves to break in because they’re not sure what they’re getting.”
That’s especially signi-ficant when shopping, if loading items into the car and then moving on to the next place. You’re not taking the items with you inside ... but an exposed expensive gift is more enticing than one that’s safely locked away out of sight.
The same goes for your own gadgets — your GPS, your iPod, whatever.
Such thefts do happen with regular frequency noted Smith. However, “with our stepped-up patrols and things we’re doing this year, we hope to keep it to a minimum.”
Smith said the most common type of car thefts actually happen when a car is parked overnight outside a residence, not necessarily in a shopping environment.
“When people go out shopping, they have a heightened sense of awareness,” said Smith, “as opposed to dropping their guard when they get home and not securing their valuables or locking their doors.”
Smith compared pre-Christmas shopping to the hustle and bustle surrounding “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving.
“There may be the same sense of urgency on the side of the customer to get it done in a short period of time, as opposed to Black Friday, where they’re racing against other customers,” he said. “The main thing I think we can pass on is the same as then: Don’t do anything you wouldn’t do otherwise.”
And while the weather doesn’t look to be frightful enough to suggest hazardous driving conditions — expect less of a white Christmas, more of a sunny one — the congested highways inherent to the holiday season could present problems in transit.
“One of the big (problems) is increased traffic volumes,” said Smith, “not only when they leave Somerset and head to relatives out of state, but also on the return trip back into town.”
It’s not just holiday travelers who are clogging the roads, but also the shoppers, noted Smith, making for plenty of potentially sticky situations.
“With that extra traffic, maybe nerves are already on the edge, from a long trip or having to fight all the traffic,” said Smith. “It’s important to drive defensively and not aggressively.
“Take time and make sure you get (to your destination) safely as opposed to being a really aggressive driver,” he added. “You get there faster but increase your chances of collision. If you drive defensively, your reaction time is better, and you’ll be able to avoid something in the road that may cause a flat tire. It’s not life-threatening, but it makes your trip a lot easier.”
A good rule of thumb in normal driving conditions, according to Smith, is to try and keep two car lengths (or two seconds) between your vehicle and the one in front of you. 
In trickier conditions, however, or at night, Smith says a careful driver should double that — four lengths or four seconds.
“When it’s night or you’re driving in any type of weather, it takes longer to recognize hazards,” said Smith. 
“One car may consider what they’re following behind to be a safe distance, but when the car swerves to miss something in the road, there’s just not enough reaction time for the person following them to have the same success avoiding the object,” he continued. “Rear-end collisions occur due to vehicles following too closely behind another and not allowing enough reaction time.”
That goes for you too, Santa — be sure to keep a distance of four reindeer between your sleigh and the one in front of you.