One red bulb

Published 10:05 pm Tuesday, December 7, 2010

It took less than 24 hours for one of the lights on the Pilot Club of Suffolk’s Safety Tree to go from green to red this year. Less than a day had passed between the official lighting of the tree, located at the corner of N. Main Street and Constance Road, and the city’s first traffic death of the holiday season.

With only 150 lights on the tree, one red light, signifying the single December highway fatality so far this year, stands as a stark reminder of the dangers we all face when we get behind the wheel.

Sunday afternoon, when 31-year-old Niki J. Nuas of Winton, N.C., lost control of her 2001 Ford Focus and crashed into a tree on Whaleyville Boulevard, was a day with dangerous weather conditions. Black ice had caused police to close the Holland Bypass, and accidents were widespread throughout the area. Police, however, do not believe that weather was a factor in the accident that took Nuas’ life.

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In fact, as of Monday, they were still unsure of why the woman lost control of her vehicle. She could have been distracted by something trivial, as was the driver of a Mustang who crashed on Holland Road on Tuesday. She could have been attempting to avoid a deer, as countless area drivers have had to do this year in the midst of record numbers of deer-related collisions. Or there could have been an entirely different reason for the crash.

What’s clear, though, is that Niki Nuas left for her destination sometime before noon on Sunday, fully expecting a safe trip. Something went terribly wrong — and terribly quickly. And in the blink of an eye, Suffolk had recorded its first traffic fatality of the Christmas 2010 season.

We can never guarantee our safety on the road or in any other situation. But we can vastly improve our odds of completing every trip we begin if we stay alert, drive the speed limit, eliminate unnecessary distractions and remain prepared for the unsafe actions of other drivers. And since even the best preparations can be insufficient to overcome a fateful encounter with bad timing, always wear your seatbelt.

One red bulb is already one too many.