Efforts to reduce traffic fatalities showing great results

Efforts to improve safety for motorists on Idaho roads could be paying off with motor vehicle fatalities continuing to decline.

Early numbers from ITD show 210 motor vehicle fatalities occurred in Idaho during 2010. This is down from 226 fatalities in 2009 and 232 fatalities in 2008. The lowest number of traffic deaths on record, going back to 1962, was in 1963 when there were 207 fatalities. The state’s population has more than doubled since the 1960s.

Idaho motorists may be enjoying a safer drive because of ongoing highway improvements, more traffic enforcement, increased highway safety education activities, smarter driving choices and a commitment by highway safety professionals across the state to one day reduce motor vehicle fatalities to zero.

“We are very pleased that fewer people are being killed on Idaho’s roads,” said Mary Hunter, ITD highway safety manager. “These aren’t just numbers, they are family members and friends.”

While traffic fatalities tend to decline nationwide during economic downturns, Hunter said she believes that people making smarter driving choices and improvements to roads have contributed to Idaho’s reductions.

“Many partners have been involved in these ‘Toward Zero Deaths’ efforts to move toward our long-term goal of no one dying on an Idaho roadway,” Hunter explained. “Idaho’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan brings partners together from across the state to address Idaho’s most significant issues to improve safety and reduce traffic deaths and serious injuries.”

ITD has been using federal grants to support education and enforcement, including paid media campaigns and statewide law enforcement to encourage people to make smart driving choices and comply with Idaho’s motor vehicle laws.

The education and enforcement campaigns have focused on Idaho’s three biggest killers on state roadways -- impaired driving, safety restraint use and aggressive driving, particularly speeding.

From 2005 to 2009, Idaho’s DUI (driving under the influence) fatalities dropped from 100 to 74, aggressive driving fatalities dropped from 133 to 106, and unrestrained fatalities dropped from 136 to 90. Full analysis of 2010 crash data is still being completed.

In addition to outreach campaigns, ITD has also worked at engineering a variety of highway safety solutions:

  • In northern Idaho, U.S. 95’s number of highway lanes were increased to four from Idaho 53 to Ohio Match.
  • Maintenance crews in north-central Idaho have flattened slopes near highways to improve sight distance for drivers and installed guardrail.
  • Southwest Idaho workers have reconfigured some intersections, including adding left turn lanes, improved signage at problem intersections, incorporated raised medians and curbing where appropriate and worked with Idaho Department of Fish and Game to reduce vehicle collisions with animals.
  • Using improved methods, materials and performance metrics, southeast Idaho crews have reduced ice duration to about a third of its historic average, making winter travel safer and more efficient.
  • Eastern Idaho drivers will find increased shoulder widths and additional lanes in some areas, and new turn bays and passing lanes added to problem roads. Crews have worked on flattening slopes, trimming trees and cutting brush to improve visibility for drivers.

One telling statistic appears frequently throughout Idaho’s crash data, Hunter said. Four out of five Idaho motor vehicle fatalities occur on rural roads outside cities of 5,000 or more.

“It is essential that road users always make smart driving choices, but when on rural roads it is even more critical,” she explained. “Emergency Medical Service providers and hospitals may be hours away.”

While available resources can have limits, ITD and its many Toward Zero Deaths’ partners are committed to driving down traffic deaths, serious injuries and economic losses to all Idahoans, Hunter said.

“Every Idahoan, not the person involved in the traffic crash, pays 85 percent of the medical costs associated with motor vehicle crashes through hikes in insurance premiums, higher taxes and increased charges for medical services,” she emphasized. “Every traffic death is a family tragedy.”

Published 2-18-2011