Simple acts make for safer roads
Fatalities in Illinois in 2006 dropped to lowest level since 1924
By Haley Murray
Wednesday, May 23, 2007 8:36 AM CDT
Last year was the safest year on Illinois roadways since 1924, and IDOT's Division of Traffic Safety attributes it to the simple act of buckling up and looking sharp.
Illinois Department of Transportation representatives met with community members and local police officers in Collinsville earlier this month as part of a series of public hearings in the state to build upon what Col. Dan Kent described as "the safest year in more than 80 years."
Kent, law enforcement liaison for IDOT, outlined this year's Comprehensive Highway Safety Plan, which must be turned into the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the fall, with officers representing multiple local communities, including Collinsville, Edwardsville, Granite City, Fairmont City and Troy, as well as members of the Illinois State Police.
Preliminary data counted 1,254 traffic deaths in 2006, the lowest number since 1924, when 1,065 traffic deaths were recorded.
"There was less than 2,000 miles of paved road back in 1924, and normally there wasn't enough room to pass," Kent told the crowd of nearly 30. "Now, there are 13 and a half million people in the state driving on millions and millions more miles, and yet we've reduced our fatalities."
In addition, safety belt usage is nearly 90 percent and use of child passenger safety seats was about 85 percent.
Local community police officers reported similar statistics. Collinsville Police Sgt. Bill Berger noted more people were wearing their seat belts, while Fairmont City Police Officer Mark Cronovich said Spanish-language signs and literature about speeding and seat belt use have improved driving in the that community, which is more than 50 percent Hispanic.
"We take a very proactive approach with regard to speed, seat belt and child restraint systems," Cronovich said.
Edwardsville Police Lt. Scott Evers said grants from IDOT that allow police agencies to put more officers on the street to enforce traffic laws have greatly improved his area.
"We're experiencing amazing growth, and with that growth comes the need for service, which is taking attention away from traffic," Evers said. "These grants give us the flexibility to bring that focus back."
Fatalities have steadily been decreasing since 2003, when it peaked at 1,454. In 2004 and 2005, fewer than 1,400 traffic deaths were reported in Illinois.
Meanwhile, seat belt and child safety seat usage has increased from about 74 percent in 2003 to 88 percent in 2006.
"The number one most important piece of legislation ever to happen in traffic safety in the state of Illinois was July 3, 2003 - the governor signed the seat belt law," Kent said. "Law enforcement officers became extremely aggressive about enforcing the mandatory seat belt law, and you can see how profound that was. People don't like to wear their seat belt, but we can prove that it can save your life."
Using this basic, but vital, correlation, Kent said IDOT's goal is to bring the number of traffic fatalities to less than 1,000 by 2008, as well as bring the seat belt usage rate above 90 percent.
"Now, that's an aggressive number," said Kent, who noted that 398 fatalities have already occurred this year. "But, we're behind last year's rate (at this time last year.)"
By continuing with educational campaigns like "Click It or Ticket", and IDOT-funded grants that allow local officers to focus on traffic law enforcement, Kent said he believes the numbers will continue to pick up.
"Nothing is more powerful than what you can do at a local level," Kent said.