Cars vs. BUILDINGS Distractions help fuel crazy rash of crashes

A car driven by an 18-year-old man slams into a Quail Drive house at 85 mph.

You couldn’t tell from looking at it now, but a month ago, the front wall of Harold and Jo Ann Grohler’s home on Londonderry Road in North Charleston was reduced to a gaping hole littered with shattered glass and splintered wood after their neighbor mistakenly smashed her sport-utility vehicle clear into their living room.

The couple struggled to comprehend how such a thing could happen.

Even with the SUV’s headlights piercing into her home, and its horn blasting, the shock of the situation kept it from seeming real.

“I thought, oh my God there’s a car in my house’,” Jo Ann Grohler said on the morning of Sept. 26.

The Grohlers aren’t alone in their ordeal. Drivers ram their vehicles into buildings more often than you would think.

Over the past year, at least 14 vehicles have crashed into homes or business in the greater Charleston area.

A half-dozen of those wrecks occurred in just the past month alone.

The most recent incident involved a Buick that plowed through the wall of a North Charleston home on Tuesday. A pet store, a pain management center and a barbecue joint also have been unwitting targets in recent weeks.

But why does it happen?

If you ask College of Charleston psychology professor Lisa Ross, driver distraction plays a large role in such collisions.

On her daily commute, Ross said she often sees people with their heads down and eyes looking everywhere but on the road as they fiddle with their phones, adjust their radios or attempt to balance some other multitasking maneuver.

“The number of tops of people’s heads I see as I am driving to and from work seems to be increasing,” she said. “Everyone seems to be looking down and at something else.”

People, especially youth, often have too much confidence in their ability to handle several tasks simultaneously, Ross said.

“It’s really important to pay attention to the here and now,” she said. “And when we don’t do that, bad things can happen.”

In Goose Creek police Capt. John Grainger’s experience, wrecks of this type were likely the result of driver inattention or driver error.

A driver told police he mistook the gas for the brake when he crashed his Dodge wagon into a brick wall at Pine Lakes Apartments on Cranford Road on Dec. 29.

Goose Creek police charged a man with attempted murder, however, after he purposefully rammed his car into the Camelia Road home he shared with his fiancee, and punched two holes in the wall in a fight over fidelity issues on Feb. 19.

In the last five years, the Goose Creek Police Department has investigated an of average 227 collisions on private property per year, Grainger said.

Any time a vehicle smashes into a building, it’s going to draw a lot of attention, Grainger said, but the rate at which that happens hasn’t risen to a point of statistical significance.

“My recommendations to any driver are to maintain an awareness of their driving environment and the vehicles around them, avoid dividing their attention with electronic devices or other unnecessary distractions,” Grainger said.

Drivers also should budget driving time accordingly to avoid hasty maneuvers and the temptation to speed or ignore traffic signs, Grainger said.

In North Charleston, two of the last four times a vehicle crashed into a building, the driver had a medical condition that contributed to the wreck, police spokesman Spencer Pryor said.

Such was the case when a Buick Century driven by an elderly man jumped a curve and crashed into a brick house at the corner of North Rhett Avenue and Braddock Street on Oct. 23.

Medical conditions contributed to 1,804 drivers colliding into fixed objects along public roadways from 2008 to 2010, according to state records. Thirty-three of those wrecks were fatal.

There isn’t much to be said in the way of collision prevention where medical conditions are involved, Pryor said.

The North Charleston Police Department doesn’t consider these wrecks to be a mounting problem, Pryor said. But he added that drivers should use caution while operating their vehicles.

Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.