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Safe highways are a responsibility for all

Fatal crash on Hwy. 26 near Sandy a tragic reminder that drivers need to be cautious

A horrific traffic accident early Saturday, July 7, along U.S. Hwy. 26 near Sandy in the foothills of Mount Hood demonstrates that no one should take highway safety for granted.

Janene Brundege was traveling to a youth baseball tournament from her North Portland home when another vehicle crossed the narrow center median strip of Hwy. 26 and collided with the van she was driving.

The head-on collision spun Brundege's vehicle into a collision with yet another van.

A Saturday morning filled with anticipation instead ended with the deaths of Brundege; her 23-month-old daughter; an 11-year-old family friend, Tyler Williams; and the driver of the van that collided with Brundege's vehicle - Lewis Delmar Lambert. Janene's son, Quinton Brundege, 11, suffered serious, but not life-threatening injuries.

Safety improvements are helping

While the cause of the accident is still under investigation, this much is clear: Hwy. 26 east of Sandy - known around the area as 'Blood Alley' - is very dangerous.

Motorists often exceed the highway's posted speed limits, and in winter months, snow and ice can cover the road's surface. In one seven-mile stretch, five fatal accidents have occurred since 2000, resulting in the deaths of 13 people.

The entire Mt. Hood corridor is a setting for tragedy. From 2003 through 2005 alone, 23 serious accidents occurred, resulting in 18 deaths.

These statistics are a huge downer. Yet, Hwy. 26 is safer than it was before 1996 when the state made increased safety a priority by designating the roadway a safety corridor. Since then, highway engineering improvements, public education and stepped-up police patrols have made a difference.

In fact, by 2009, the state will have spent $33 million since 2002 to improve the road and add turn lanes, striping and signage.

Late this week, crews will begin installing cable barriers in the narrow center median strip where the Brundege accident occurred. The cable barriers were planned before the accident and are intended to prevent vehicles from crossing the median.

We think even more patrols by Oregon State Police troopers also are required. At present, over the course of an entire week, only four officers patrol Hwy. 26 east of Sandy. That's too few. Oftentimes, one of these officers is pulled from duty.

Although the state funded more than 3,500 additional patrol hours from 1998 to 2005, we strongly agree with state Rep. Patti Smith (R-Corbett) that more officers are needed.

Drivers' habits must change, too

Ultimately, better habits by drivers will determine how safe Hwy. 26 becomes.

Highway officials say that more than half of all accidents are a result of motorists driving too fast, tailgating another vehicle or not using sufficient care when changing lanes or turning from a highway. Excessive speed can be the ultimate killer.

Roads such as Hwy. 26 can be made safer with cable barriers, safety signage, reduced speeds and lane striping. Increased police patrols and enforcement can make it clear that if you speed, you will be cited. But motorists must do their part by driving with increased care and a stepped-up defensive attitude about other motorists.

No good can come from the recent deaths on Hwy. 26 unless that something is a greater personal commitment to driver safety, more state police enforcement, ongoing highway safety improvements and public education.

Only then will fewer people die on Oregon's highways.