Zero traffic deaths on Idaho roads is an ambitious goal but one the Idaho Transportation Department believes is imperative.
“Too many people are dying on Idaho roads,” said ITD Deputy Director Charles Rountree. “We need to work toward achieving a vision of zero deaths.”
Rountree, along with Idaho law enforcement officers and representatives of the newly formed Idaho Seat Belt Coalition, spoke at a news conference on the steps of the state capitol about a partnership to develop a comprehensive highway safety plan for Idaho entitled “Toward Zero Deaths.”
The first step of that plan is increasing seat belt use.
The partnership is an important milestone, marking the most inclusive effort to date to improve safety on Idaho’s highways and roads. ITD, Idaho law enforcement agencies, Idaho businesses and other local, state and federal organizations will work together to achieve the zero deaths goal.
“The human and financial toll that traffic crashes make is much too high,” said Rountree. “In 2005, 275 Idahoans were killed and 14,436 more were injured. Those figures are higher than the national average and are unacceptable. Costs associated with traffic crashes,” he continued, “amounted to more than $1.77 billion in 2005, up from $1.65 billion in 2004.”
The first step in creating the Toward Zero Deaths vision was a two-day summit last year. More than 100 participants from state and local entities examined how deaths and injuries can be reduced on Idaho roads. They identified 10 key areas of emphasis:
Summit participants agreed that protection of vehicle occupants should be the first initiative in the Toward Zero Deaths effort, leading to the formation of the Idaho Seat Belt Coalition, explained Rountree.
The seat belt coalition is made up of more than 170 individuals, and representatives of government agencies, businesses, and non-profit organizations throughout Idaho who are dedicated to increasing seat belt use.
Co-chairs are Capt. Ben Wolfinger of the Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office in northern Idaho; Dave Carlson, director of public and government affairs of AAA Idaho; and Lynette Sharp, director of flight and trauma services for Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (Idaho Falls).
Speaking at Tuesday’s news conference, Carlson said, “One area where we can make a lot of progress Toward Zero Deaths is through increased seat belt use. The Idaho Seat Belt Coalition is going to play a major role in that effort.”
In 2005, 126 Idahoans were killed and 452 were seriously injured in motor vehicle crashes because they were not wearing a seat belt. People who don’t wear a seat belt make up 60 percent of those killed in crashes in Idaho.
The coalition’s goal, said Carlson, is to get 100 percent of Idahoans to use seat belts.
“In 2005, the seat belt usage rate was 76 percent. This year, it is averaging 80 percent – an increase due to greater awareness and the monumental efforts of Idaho law enforcement agencies. While we have made great strides, we cannot accept the deaths and injuries that continue to happen to the 20 percent of Idahoans who are not buckling up.
“Effective today,” Carlson continued, “the Idaho Seat Belt Coalition will mount a comprehensive public education campaign to ensure that every Idahoan buckles up every time he or she gets in the car.”
ITD Director Dave Ekern applauded the efforts. He congratulated campaign participants and called on all Idahoans to pledge their support to improve safety on Idaho highways and roads.
“Saving lives and preventing injury comes down to individual responsibility,” said Ekern. “It is up to each of you to ensure your own safety and that of your family. I urge you to get behind the Toward Zero Deaths effort by buckling up, restraining children in vehicles, driving the speed limit, driving sober and driving smart.”
Photos: ITD Deputy Director Charles Rountree was flanked by law enforcement officers and seat belt proponents on the steps of the Idaho Capitol Tuesday (top); Dave Carlson of AAA Idaho emphasized the critical need to improve seat belt use(middle left); Boise Police officer Mike Webb drove his point home about wearing seat belts (middle right); and Darlene Root, who survived a severe accident along with all of her family members because they were buckled, was interviewed by a Boise television reporter (above left).