This is a rather depressing statistic to begin with, but it’s very important. In 2018, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office investigated a total of 80 fatal crashes.

So far this year, we have investigated 52 fatal crashes. Those may sound like high numbers — and they are — but it gets worse. Those numbers don’t include fatal crashes investigated by the city agencies and Florida Highway Patrol.

I’m sorry for the somber topic this week, but this is very important.

These are lives being ended too soon, and loved ones whose lives are forever changed. Many of these crashes were avoidable.

In law enforcement, we don’t like to call them accidents. When someone purposely chooses to drive a car after drinking too much alcohol, or texting behind the wheel, or driving recklessly, the ensuing crash doesn’t happen by accident.

They happen because of bad choices. Very, very bad choices.

Unless people begin taking their responsibilities in the driver’s seat more seriously, it’s only going to get worse.

The population in Polk County continues to grow. That’s going to put more cars, motorcycles, trucks and pedestrians on the road. That leads to congestion and often times it increases anxiety and anger with a lot of drivers.

The next time someone tells you to drive safely, don’t take it just as a friendly parting phrase.

Take it as a reminder.

Concentrate on the road, be courteous to other drivers, stay calm — drive safely.

Grady Judd is the Sheriff of Polk County. For more information about him, or the Polk County Sheriff's Office, visit https://www.polksheriff.org.

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