The story on Page B3 this morning highlights a report that claims Santa Rosa is ranks as the 12th "safest" city in California to drive a car.
Like most "ranking" reports, though, this one really doesn't tell us much. Produced by Allstate Insurance Co., the report relies solely on one narrow statistic: the number of damage claims submitted to auto insurance providers. In this case, Santa Rosa's damage claims have increased in recent years, taking us — in Allstate's view of the world — from number two (second safest) in 2010 to number five last year to number 12 this year.
These kinds of reports are usually generated as publicity for those who compile them, such as Allstate. Other types of ranking reports have a little more research integrity and news value, such as a report this spring in which Sonoma County was listed as the 12th "healthiest" in the state, or periodic reports on the crime rates of individual cities or counties.
But it's dangerous to rely on any one study to determine the relative health, safety and security of a community. Take another story on today's Page B3, for example.
"CHP officers are looking for a woman hit-and-run driver who struck a motorcycle rider on Old Redwood Highway in Cotati and left him in a drainage ditch with major injuries."
Randi Rossmann's story sounds all too familiar, and begs the question: Where does Sonoma County rank in hit-and-run drivers?
Motorcyclist Jeffrey Asher, 58, had gone to meet friends for Sunday-morning coffee in Cotati and was on his way home to Petaluma. He apparently wasn't going fast enough for the woman who was driving the car behind him, so she attempted to pass him illegally on the right-hand side. She sideswiped Asher, knocking him into a guardrail and, eventually, the intensive-care unit.
This is eerily reminiscent of the hit-and-run crash that led to the death of retired Sonoma State University professor Steve Norwick. He was riding his bicycle along Petaluma Hill Road on June 8 — on his way to meet friends for coffee — when he was struck by a passing pickup truck. He died 12 days later.
A man was arrested in the Norwick case, but that certainly isn't always the case. Police still don't know who ran down and killed Don Andrew Casper last August as the San Francisco attorney jogged along River Road near Forestville. Nor have any arrests been made in the death of Frank Moreno, who was struck and killed while riding his bike last November on Fulton Road.
In a story on July 4, Rossmann reported Sonoma County's three main traffic enforcement jurisdictions — the CHP, Santa Rosa police and Petaluma police — had reported 581 hit-and-run offenses in 2011, 119 of which involved death or injury.
One hundred and nineteen times a driver hit someone — in another car, on a bike, astride a motorcycle or on foot — hard enough to cause injury or death, and then fled the scene.
Regardless of some artificial ranking, a place is neither safe nor healthy nor secure when some of its citizens are so callous that they leave fellow travelers bleeding and broken by the side of the road.
The statistic I'd like to see: Sonoma County ranks number one in finding and punishing hit-and-run drivers.