For some time now, the Kentucky State Police has taken an annual in-depth look at the previous year’s traffic accidents, everything from relatively minor fender benders to those much more serious – more than 150,000 in all.
Taken together, these reports show us that, in many ways, our highways are continuing to get safer each year. The number of fatalities in 2011, for example, was five percent lower when compared to 2010, and this year’s total through late October is a full 10 percent behind the same timeframe in 2009.
There are several reasons why we’re seeing this downward trend in fatalities. Deadly accidents involving drugs and alcohol were down five percent last year, and seatbelt usage has risen from 72 percent in 2007 to 82 percent last year.
Some relatively new laws have also undoubtedly had a positive impact. Those include banning texting while driving, not allowing those under 18 to use cell phones behind the wheel and lengthening the timeframe for our youngest drivers to get an unrestricted license. Focusing on teenagers is critical, because they make up less than seven percent of all drivers but are involved in 16 percent of all accidents.
More targeted enforcement is helping as well. Consider a two-plus week period this past August and early September, when a federally funded program known as “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign led to more than 1,600 DUI citations and helped police recover more than 1,000 stolen vehicles and nab nearly 2,000 fugitives. According to the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, which coordinated the program, substance abuse played a role in more than 5,600 traffic accidents last year and was the root cause of 150 deaths on our highways.
In breaking down the data gathered from last year’s traffic accidents, the KSP report gave us a comprehensive glimpse of what is happening every day on the road.
The report found that injury accidents were down when compared to 2010 but those causing only property damage were up slightly. The age group most affected by highway fatalities was 25 to 34, and the number of males who died outnumbered the females almost by a two-to-one margin.
November was the worst month for traffic accidents last year – something to keep in mind as the month gets underway – but July was the worst when just measuring fatalities. Friday, meanwhile, was the most dangerous day of the week to be driving, but Saturday only had slightly more fatalities than Wednesday.
Of the holiday weekends throughout the year, Labor Day was the most dangerous, followed by Independence Day. Interstate 75 and the Edward Breathitt Pennyrile Parkway led the state’s interstates and parkways respectively in the total number of accidents.
There were more than 1,000 pedestrians hit and more than 5,000 accidents in which a deer or other animal was involved. School buses were involved in 850 accidents, and trains were a factor in nearly 50.
The lack of helmets for those riding motorcycles and ATVs remains a concern. Just a little more than half of those who died while riding a motorcycle were wearing helmets, but only one of the 24 to die on an ATV driven on public property was wearing one. Of the 150 people injured on ATVs last year, helmets were used just seven times.
Another problem the KSP report highlights is the high number of hit-and-run accidents, which totaled nearly 11,000 in 2011. Of those, 15 involved a fatality.
It may go without saying that we always need to be careful when driving, but it doesn’t hurt to periodically remind ourselves to click that seatbelt, drive a little slower, and be more aware of road conditions when we get in our vehicle – those seemingly little things are the reasons we’re seeing more people make it home safely every day.