FRANKFORT – One of our country’s great success stories over the past 50 years is the steep decline in deadly auto accidents. Highway fatalities that exceeded 50,000 a year in the early 1970s have since dropped below 40,000, even with significant growth in the number of drivers on the road.
Kentucky has taken full advantage of this welcome trend. In fact, 2013’s total was the lowest we’ve seen in the commonwealth since the late 1940s.
\While we are heading in the right direction overall, there is still much work to be done. In October, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) underscored the challenges ahead when it released a comprehensive report on 2017’s fatal motor-vehicle crashes.
The good news is that this number went down about two percent nationally last year, but that came after two straight years of steep increases: 8.4 percent in 2015 and 6.5 percent in 2016. The hope is that we’re again moving toward the lower numbers our country saw between five and 10 years ago.
\Another silver lining from 2017 is that the percentage of fatalities due to drunk driving was the lowest since 1982, when NHTSA began compiling this statistic. Kentucky’s efforts to reduce alcohol-related deaths on our highways are showing especially positive results, with only four states having a lower rate.
Here in the commonwealth, the Kentucky State Police is the agency that has historically taken a comprehensive look at all of our highway accidents, which last year exceeded 112,000, or more than 300 a day.
The latest report further confirms some things don’t change from year to year. Males are about twice as likely to die in a fatal crash as females, for example, and more accidents happen in urban areas while rural areas are home to more fatalities. Seatbelt use has held fairly constant – nearly nine out of 10 buckle up now – while a little more than a third riding on a motorcycle still choose not to wear a helmet.
The KSP report also gets quite specific in its data analysis. Because of that, we know that Friday was the day and May the month when the most traffic accidents happened in 2017, but Thursday and October were our deadliest day and month on the road.
Although it is impossible to put a dollar figure on loss of life, the KSP report does calculate the economic and social costs associated with all of our traffic accidents, from fender benders to those in which a person was killed. In 2016, the most recent year available, that comprehensive figure exceeded $18 billion.
Over the years, the General Assembly and our state and local law enforcement have worked well together to make our highways safer. That includes establishing much longer periods for teens to obtain a driver’s license; banning texting while driving; increasing height requirements for children riding in booster seats; and cracking down on those with multiple DUIs.
It may not be possible to end traffic accidents entirely, but there is no doubt that lowering them much further remains in our grasp. Thankfully, the steady rise of automated safety features in our vehicles, more data-driven law enforcement and improved infrastructure are helping to lead the way.
A little extra precaution on our part, especially as we prepare for another season of winter weather, is important as well. The few additional minutes we take to reach our destination may be the very thing that keeps us from becoming a statistic in the next KSP traffic report.
As always, I encourage you to let me know your thoughts or concerns about this or any other issue facing Kentucky. My email is Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov, while the General Assembly’s toll-free message line is 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, it is 800-896-0305.