Aggressive driving, speeding, alcohol, and sleepiness remain the primary causes behind automobile fatalities, according to newly released information by the Oregon State Sheriffs' Association. The findings stem from research conducted by an array of federal agencies and consumer groups.

Statistics gathered by the National Highway Transportation and Safety Association, for example, show that 43,443 people were killed in automobile accidents during 2005, the most recent survey year. Despite a 3% decrease, the number nationally remains unacceptably high and reveals the challenges faced by local and regional law enforcement agencies.

"During the summer, when there are more cars on the road, drivers forget the basic rule of driving, which is to always drive defensively," said Sheriff Larry Blanton of the Deschutes County Sheriff's Office. "This remains the single most important principle of safe driving."

Meanwhile, The NHTSA study found that more than 15,000 passenger vehicle occupants died in traffic crashes between the nighttime hours of 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.

Other disturbing findings reveal that an estimated 1,000 drivers are killed each month in high speed-related crashes -- 66% of those incidents involving a single automobile.

And then there's the ever-present problem of drinking and driving. In 2004 some 16,694 people lost their lives due to alcohol-impaired vehicle operators.

With that in mind, Sheriff Blanton has some practical advice to help keep you and your family safe on the roads this summer:

1. Drinking and driving don't mix. According to the NHTSA, three in every 10 Americans will be involved in an alcohol - related crash at some point. It is best to have a designated driver or restrain from drinking than to loose your life.

* 2. Always travel with a first-aid kit. It can offer a quick bandage, tweezers, or alcohol rubs.
* 3. Do not drive impaired, which means a drowsy driver or a driver under the influence of a substance.
* 4. Children 12 years or younger should ride in the back seat of the your vehicle in age-appropriate restraints. In 2004, there were 495 passenger vehicle occupant fatalities among children under five years of age. Of those 495 fatalities, an estimated 173, 35% were totally unrestrained.
* 5. A cell phone can save a life, but it can also cause a collision. It is best that you pull off the road when you need to dial a number or 911.
* 6. Use the three-second rule -- the suggested time interval that keeps you from tailgating another vehicle too closely and causing an accident.
* 7. Vehicle safety kit should be in the trunk. It should include jumper cables, reflective triangles, a blanket, nonperishable food, flashlight, and other various goodies. Even if you do not use many of the items, it will provide you a peace of mind.
* 8. Don't fall asleep at the wheel. According to the NHTSA, most crashes happen when people are alone. 56,000 crashes occur annually in which a drowsy driver is to blame.


The Oregon State Sheriff's Association is a non-profit professional and educational organization dedicated to the Oregon.