One of the more persistent challenges facing our country is finding ways to reduce the number of people killed or injured in a traffic accident.
In one sense, we have come a long way. Four decades ago, for example, the number of highway fatalities regularly topped 50,000 a year, but the figures for 2011 were the lowest the United States has seen since 1949, a testament to tougher laws, safer roads, more focused enforcement and better technology in the cars and trucks we drive.
A sizeable portion of that progress came in just the six years before 2011, when the country’s – and Kentucky’s – totals declined by a fourth.
That trend, unfortunately, began to turn the other way last year, although it looks like 2013 will put us back on track. According to the Kentucky State Police, preliminary estimates through the first 10 months of this year show a 12 percent decline in fatalities when compared to the same period in 2012.
Overall, KSP reported there were nearly 148,000 traffic accidents last year involving almost 207,000 drivers. Most of the accidents – about two-thirds – resulted only in property damage.
When looking at just the 706 fatalities, males outnumbered females almost two to one. Most of the victims were also relatively young, with nearly 60 percent under the age of 44.
October saw the most traffic accidents last year, but May had the most fatalities. Among the days of the week, Saturday and Sunday nearly tied as being the most deadly, while Monday had the lowest totals of the seven.
As for the human factors behind all traffic accidents, inattention, over-correcting, substance abuse and speeding were understandably among the chief causes. While one of the smaller factors, improper use of cell phones was nonetheless responsible for 10 fatalities, just two less than falling asleep at the wheel.
Teenage drivers, who make up about seven percent of all licensed drivers in Kentucky, were involved in 16 percent of all collisions last year and 10 percent of the state’s fatalities. There has at least been a positive downward trend in these categories over the last few years.
In other good news, the number of alcohol-related accidents has continued its generally steady decline over the last half-dozen years, and seatbelt usage continues to increase across Kentucky. The 2008 rate of 73 percent moved to 84 percent last year.
At the other end of the spectrum, safety equipment remains mostly absent in motorcycle and ATV deaths. Of the 98 motorcyclists killed last year, 61 were not wearing a helmet, and for ATV users, only one of the 16 to die was wearing one.
Over the years, the General Assembly has taken several steps to make our roads safer. That includes lengthening the time it takes for new teenage drivers to get their license; lowering the legal limits for DUI; and stopping texting while driving.
Our law enforcement has also ramped up its patrols, thanks in part to such campaigns as “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” and “Click It or Ticket.” According to a recent legislative study, the Kentucky State Police – and its Division of Commercial Vehicle Enforcement – issued nearly 700,000 traffic citations alone between 2009 and 2012.
The responsibility to keep our roads safe is in our hands. As we approach the holidays and the winter weather that follows, I encourage you to drive a little slower and avoid any distractions. As another popular driving campaign puts it, it can wait.