Decline in traffic deaths extends into first two months of 2011
– only nine fatalities recorded –

Efforts to improve safety for motorists on Idaho highways appears to be paying off with a continuing decline in motor vehicle fatalities – a three-year trend that extends into the first quarter of 2011.

Preliminary data from the Office of Highway Safety and Operations show 209 motor vehicle fatalities occurred in Idaho during 2010. That is down from 226 fatalities in 2009 and from 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.

Early numbers for motor vehicle fatalities in the first two months of 2011 are coming in lower than for the same period last year, with only nine fatalities reported through February. The three-year average for the same time period was 23 fatalities.

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 ultimately reduce traffic 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 are making smarter driving choices. Improvements to roads also are contributing to Idaho's reductions.

ITD Deputy Director Scott Stokes agrees, saying that he thinks people today are less tolerant of risky behavior in themselves and others. "I believe drivers are much more determined to make safe driving choices, knowing that their decisions can affect other people," he said.

The department uses 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 highways - impaired driving, failure to use safety restraints 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. Law enforcement officers may select as many as three contributing circumstances for every vehicle involved in a fatal crash. Final analysis of 2010 crash data is pending.

Published 3-11-2011