Study: Deaths from traffic crashes up in 2016

Published 12:59 am Saturday, January 21, 2017

Recent studies show that traffic deaths in 2016 in Alabama increased by nearly a quarter from the prior year.

Alabama State Troopers agree with the statistics and reasoning of the recently-released University of Alabama study, but also chalk the increase up to the lack of trooper manpower on Alabama roadways.

The UA study cited increased speeds, lack of safety belts, and more distracted drivers and pedestrians as critical causes for the crashes.

Unofficial numbers showed that 1,058 people died in traffic fatalities in 2016. In 2015, 849 people were killed. But total traffic crashes increased only slightly, from 149,339 in 2015 to 152,532

“That this increase was less than one-tenth that of the fatalities indicates that there are issues on our highways that need to specifically address the fatality problem,” said Dr. David Brown, a research associate at the UA Center for Advanced Public Safety.

In 2016, there were more crashes with impact speeds faster than 50 mph, and for all crashes at 50 mph or faster, impact speeds were more than in 2015, according to the study. The largest percentage increase was at the highest speed category of 91 mph or above, which increased from 21 fatal crashes with 28 deaths in 2015 to 33 fatal crashes and 44 deaths in 2016.

Sgt. Steve Jarrett, spokesperson for the Alabama State Troopers, said that while he couldn’t speak directly about the UA study because the troopers were not involved, their own information is consistent with the UA findings.

“We know we had more fatalities than the year before,” he said. “The facts the study eludes to are also consistent with what we are seeing – speeding, no seat belts, distracted driving. There are many factors that play into crashes.”

Jarrett said another big issue is the shortage of troopers.

“The lack of trooper presence plays a big part in this,” he said. “You have less law enforcement of the traffic laws and you have people not wearing their seat belts. There are very little reminders.”

In 2016, 403 people died during crashes without using restraints despite them being available, according to the study. Brown estimates well more than half of these, or at least 200 fatalities, could have been reduced by proper use of restraints.

The greatest offenders of the seatbelt law are those who are driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Nationally, studies have concluded that 16 percent of fatal crashes are caused by some form of distracted driving. In Alabama, the number of reported cases in which distracted driving caused the crash increased by about 20 percent in 2016 over 2014, according to the analysis of crash statistics.

Out of every 10 collisions with a person walking, six were the fault of the pedestrian, according to crash records. Out of the 120 pedestrians killed, 72 could have been averted by improved behaviors of the person killed, according to the study. Records show drug use to be eight times the expected involvement in pedestrian fatalities than in non-fatal pedestrian injuries, and alcohol involvement was over-represented by a factor of two.

“This, coupled with the obvious distraction of pedestrians using their cell phones while walking, creates a very serious increase in these extremely severe crashes,” Brown said.

Jarrett said with the lack of trooper patrol on major roadways they are seeing unprecedented speeds.

“It’s nothing to see triple digit speeds on the interstate or other four-lane highway,” he said.

Jarrett said Alabama Law Enforcement officials are working closely with legislature to hiring some much-needed troopers.

“Our manpower is so short,” he said. “Most of the troopers are going from call to call to call. They have very little time to do proactive-type stuff.”

Jarrett said manpower is the shortest he’s seen in his 20-year career.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error. With that in mind, traffic safety professionals at CAPS make the following strong recommendations:

Buckle up every time you get in a vehicle.

Put aside all distractions, look ahead and concentrate on constantly moving to safer situations as you drive.

Do not even think about driving if you have had any alcohol or disabling drugs, including marijuana.

Put up the cell phone, and don’t text while driving or walking near roadways, even if they do not seem to be busy.

“It is imperative that mindsets be changed and citizens realize personal responsibilities if these tragic events are to be averted in the future,” Brown said.