By Pat Murphy
Times-News (Twin Falls)
HAILEY The really bad news about Idahos traffic
accidents in 2003 ironically wont be fully known until
well into 2004, when a mountain of statistics flowing into the
state Transportation Department from local and state agencies
are finally compiled and analyzed.
But the news already was grim: by New Years Eve, fatalities
on state roads and highways are believed to have surpassed
the decade's high of 278 set in 2000.
Idaho State Police spokesperson Rick Ohnsman said that two
new confirmed fatalities in recent days have brought the total
to 280, and a child critically injured in an accident may
become a statistic in the fatality column.
Moreover, he said, the state can count any 2003 accident
victim who dies in the first 30 days of 2004 as a 2003 statistic.
The eight counties in the Magic Valley area recorded 25 fatality
accidents investigated by Idaho State Police in 2003
some of which could involve several fatalities in a single
accident. But those 25 do not include accidents investigated
by sheriff's departments or local city police, whose statistics
were not immediately available.
In 2002, there were 43 fatality accidents in the eight counties
resulting in 54 deaths.
One of the worst 2003 records was in Blaine County, where
Sheriff Walt Femling reported 14 road deaths for 2003 compared
to only three in 2002.
Idaho's worst year for traffic fatalities was 1981, when
293 died on state roads.
Ohnsman pointed out, however, that the rate of road fatalities
in Idaho that is, the number of deaths per 100 million
miles driven -- has been higher than the national average.
Nationally, 1.5 persons died per 100 million miles in 2002,
while in Idaho the rate was 1.8 persons.
That rate could go even higher if the numbers of deaths increase
but fewer miles are driven.
Ohnsman as well as Transportation Department spokesperson
Darla Christiansen said the most tragic element in road fatalities
is that as many as two-thirds of the victims weren't wearing
seat belts and might've survived had they buckled up.
All the high-tech safety designed into cars is all
for naught, Ohnsman said, if a person is ejected.
Ohnsman has a motto drivers should heed, he said: People
who stay in the car (wearing safety belts) live; people who
A driver education program being conducted in Coeur d'Alene
in northern Idaho is being watched with interest, Ohnsman
Accidents that are fatalities are down since the voluntary
program began. He said a new session this weekend has 65 drivers