October 24, 2014

A Legislative Perspective on the Kentucky General Assembly with State Representative Rick Rand

FRANKFORT – Given the greater focus our nation now puts on highway safety, it can be difficult to remember what it was like before the era of better car and road design and tougher law enforcement.

In the early 1970s, we were losing more than 50,000 people a year to traffic accidents, but that number has since shrunk to less than 34,000, even with significantly more miles being driven.

Injuries from these accidents have dropped as well, from 169 people who were hurt per 100 million miles a quarter-century ago to 80 in 2012, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Kentucky’s numbers have largely followed the same trend, but the decline has been especially steep during the last decade. As recently as 2006, traffic fatalities were topping more than 900 a year, but 2013’s total was 638 – and we’re thankfully on track to see even fewer this year.

For some time now, the Kentucky State Police has been gathering data on every traffic accident across the state – 146,000 overall in 2013 – to compile a highly detailed report that gives us a much clearer picture of what is working and what needs improvement.

Their numbers show that about two-thirds of these accidents took place in urban areas last year, but more than half of the traffic fatalities were in the rural parts of the state. Three-fourths of the total accidents occurred during the day, in dry conditions and on roads that are straight and either level or on an incline. Two-thirds involved two or more vehicles.

October was the busiest month for traffic accidents, while Friday held that title among the days of the week. Those switched to June and Saturday, however, when just focusing on fatalities.

Deadly accidents during the major holidays were much lower in 2013 than in 2012, but nearly a third of last year’s holiday fatalities took place just over Thanksgiving. While the numbers fluctuate annually, Memorial Day, Labor Day and the Fourth of July are usually more dangerous times.

Alcohol, not surprisingly, is a major factor behind many auto accidents. While there was a decline in this type of accident last year , alcohol-related deaths went up 10 percent. This wasn’t always because of a drunk driver, either; of the 55 pedestrians who were killed last year, 16 were intoxicated themselves.

Many other fatalities were potentially preventable as well. More than half of those who died in a vehicle were not wearing a seatbelt, and just 25 of the 84 killed while on a motorcycle – and none of the 15 who died while riding an all-terrain vehicle – were wearing a helmet.

On the plus side, seatbelt usage continues to improve here in Kentucky, with the figure now at 85 percent. Other recent laws are keeping us from texting while driving, and it now takes much longer for young teen drivers to get an unrestricted license. That extra time is needed, because teens make up about 7.2 percent of all drivers in Kentucky but are involved in 15 percent of all traffic accidents.

Another positive factor in our favor is the stepped-up efforts of law enforcement. Back in June, for example, the Kentucky State Police teamed up with five other states to crack down on distracted driving. Over the seven-day period, almost 2,000 citations were issued as part of the program, 153 of which were given here in Kentucky.

Given the rise of smart phones, and more bells and whistles being added to our vehicles, it can be all too easy to take our eyes off the road, but it’s an impulse we have to learn to ignore. If we don’t, we risk losing the gains we have made in recent years. With that in mind, I encourage you to give yourself a little extra time to travel and a little more space between vehicles, especially as we ready for another round of winter. Those extra precautions could make all of the difference in the world.

If you have any thoughts about this issue or any other, please let me know. My address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.

To leave a message for me or for any legislator, call toll-free at 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.

I hope to hear from you soon.

Paid for by Rick Rand for State Representative, Regina Rand, Treasurer