Recent editorials from Alabama newspapers:

Jan. 8

Decatur Daily on a deadly holiday season on Alabama roads and highways:

It was a deadly holiday season on Alabama roads and highways.

According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, 22 people died in traffic accidents during the 13-day period between Dec. 20 and Jan. 1, and at least 14 deaths occurred in accidents where the victims were not using seat belts.

In one of the most tragic cases, three 16-year-old girls died Christmas night when their vehicle ran off the road and crashed into trees in Geneva, The Associated Press reported. Police in Geneva said speed was a factor in the wreck, as the girls were traveling “well above” the posted 25 mph speed limit.

None of the three were using seat belts, police said. Two backseat passengers who survived, however, were.

It’s not a certainty seat belts would have made a difference in this case. Perhaps the two teenage girls who survived did so because they were in the back. Perhaps the three riding in the front of the vehicle would have died anyway. All we do know is what the statistics show: Using a seat belt increases one’s chance of surviving a vehicle collision and decreases one’s chance of suffering serious injury.

Most Americans have gotten the message.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the national use rate for seat belts was 89.6% in 2018. Alabama’s rate is even higher: 92.9% in 2017, although that’s down from Alabama’s best year, which was 97.3% in 2013.

These are statistics the state can be proud of. Getting more than 90% of Alabamians to do anything is remarkable, even when it’s for their own good. We are a contrarian people, for good and ill.

That means using seat belts has become second nature for most of us. That said, however, it is still learned behavior. That means insisting that our children, once they have outgrown car seats, use seat belts every time they get in the vehicle. That way, when they turn that magical age of 16 and get their driver’s license, snapping the seat belt around their waist is already almost automatic.

Cars, trucks and SUVs are safer than in the past. Between air bags and state-of-the-art braking systems, vehicles have never been safer. But the most effective safety feature in any vehicle is still the seat belt. Indeed, air bags are designed to work in conjunction with seat belts.

According to the NHTSA, seat belt use in passenger vehicles saved an estimated 14,955 lives in 2017. That’s about equal to the population of Hartselle.

The NHTSA maintains that using a seat belt can reduce the risk of fatal injury by 45% and moderate to critical injury by 50% for passenger cars, and 60% and 65%, respectively, for light trucks.

We do a good job of buckling up in Alabama. But as the beginning of the new year shows us, there is still room for improvement. There are still lives that could be saved.


Jan. 7

The Gadsden Times on the viewership of a television show featuring an Alabama jail:

We’re not sure how valid traditional television ratings are anymore, given the plethora of ways people can access the medium in the 21st century.

There also are so many on-air and cable channels these days — the most recent data we could find is six years old; at that time Nielsen said the average U.S. household had access to 189 channels — the results are going to be much more fragmented and difficult to follow than in the era when the ratings were life and death for networks and content creators.

However, ShowBuzzDaily offers daily rankings — by overall viewers, also broken down by key advertiser demographics like age and gender — of the top 150 original cable programs and network finals.

We’re going to make a prediction that we’re confident doesn’t involve stepping into the ozone. If the website could gauge the strength of viewership in a specific market, last Thursday’s No. 11 program overall (with about 935,000 viewers) probably came close to 100% penetration in Etowah County, Alabama.

That would be the sixth-season premiere of A&E’s “60 Days In,” a reality show that involves sending undercover volunteers into county jails for 60 days in search of illegal activities that jail staff might be missing.

As we’ve noted in our news pages and this space since the announcement was made in November, the focus this season is on 827 Forrest Ave., Gadsden — the Etowah County Detention Center.

That facility was teased by the network as “one of the worst ... the series has ever seen.” (Just three of the seven volunteers were able to tough it out for the full 60 days.)

We sought community reaction to the series opener; it generally echoed the network’s assessment.

One person called the program “a real eye opener.” Some questioned how and why the jail got into that sad a shape, pointing out inadequate staffing, training, infrastructure and attention to safety. There were calls for “condemnation of the building” and an “exorcism.” (We doubt any bulldozers or holy water are on the way.)

We know some of those who watched were, basically, like gawkers at a vehicle accident. (Some folks who were looking for friends or family expressed disappointment on social media that faces were blacked out; those were the inmates who didn’t sign releases with the show’s producers.)

Others probably were bemoaning another “black eye” and source of ridicule for Gadsden and Etowah County, and tuned in to see just how bad it would be.

There’s no minimizing the harshness of this particular spotlight, but we always stress the need to move forward from things in the past that can’t be erased, but also can’t be changed.

Sheriff Johnathon Horton — who accepted an offer to be involved with the show after taking office and seeing what he faced — says the intelligence provided by the undercover volunteers has been invaluable, and has helped jail staff cut down on contraband and make operations at the facility safer, more efficient and less stressful. Infrastructure and technological improvements — new locks, windows, security cameras and body scanners — have been implemented since the show’s cameras left.

We know that’s going to be an ongoing process, and that future “60 Days In” episodes are bound to feature some head-shaking and “that really didn’t happen, did it” moments.

Just remember, stories — and reality — often change from beginning to end.


Jan. 3

Opelika-Auburn News on the location for a new state veterans home:

The Alabama Board of Veterans Affairs announced on Friday (Jan. 3) that it has selected a site in Enterprise as the location for a new state veterans home.

That’s good news for the veterans it will serve, and a positive message that all military veterans in Alabama need to hear as a matter of much-deserved support and often-undeserved provision of it.

The state’s Department of Veterans Affairs last July released a Request for Site Selection Proposals for land on which to construct a fifth state veterans home in southeast Alabama.

The new veterans home will be approximately 182,000 square feet and provide skilled care for 150-175 elderly or disabled veterans.

The department’s four current homes are in Alexander City, Bay Minette, Pell City and Huntsville, providing care for 704 veterans.

Bill Nichols State Veterans Home is the assisted living facility in Alexander City that serves veterans in this area, including Tallapoosa, Chambers and Lee counties.

In late 2018 a feasibility study confirmed the need for a fifth veterans home. The counties in consideration include Barbour, Butler, Coffee, Covington, Crenshaw, Dale, Geneva, Henry, Houston and Pike.

A recent study commissioned by Veterans Affairs projected that 1,440 veterans in Alabama would require a skilled-care bed by 2045.

The study also showed that the projected demand for skilled-care among Alabama veterans will continue to significantly exceed the total number of beds provided through the state veterans home program.

Based on the study’s findings, officials identified the Wiregrass Region as an underserved area for providing skilled-care exclusively for veterans.

The chosen location consists of a donation of 108 acres between U.S. Highway 84 and Alabama Highway 167.

Coffee County was identified as having the largest veteran population projections in the feasibility study, while other counties show a reduction in the veteran population.

Enterprise has a workforce to support the home as well as medical services available to support the needs of the veterans, according to the board’s announcement.

The new veterans home is expected to open by 2023.

It will be a welcome addition.


Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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