Friday, July 05, 2002

Troopers out to stem rise in highway deaths

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Kentucky State Police stepped up patrols as the Fourth of July weekend got under way, mindful of an increase this year in the number of highway fatalities.

        Records show more people have died on state roads through June this year than during the same period for the previous five years.

        The six-month period has been the deadliest since 1998. That year, 424 people died during the first half of the year in traffic accidents, compared with 433 this year.

        Last year, 383 people died on the state's roads in the first half of the year.

        Jerry Pigman, a research engineer analyst with the Kentucky Transportation Center at the University of Kentucky, said it's hard to tell why the numbers are up this year. Traffic deaths sometimes fluctuate.

        “Fatalities do tend to jump up and down,” Mr. Pigman said. “The difference between fatalities and serious crashes is often just fate.”

        Justice Secretary Ishmon Burks said the fatality figures indicate that more than 900 people will die on Kentucky roads this year.

        “Every hour, someone dies simply because they did not take the time to buckle up,” he said in a letter on highway safety last month. “Wearing seat belts is the single most effective means of reducing fatalities and serious injuries resulting from traffic crashes.”

        Mr. Burks blamed the increase in road deaths on inattentive drivers, speeding and tailgating, and said he believes more people are driving since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

        He also cited Kentucky's rural roads as a problem area.

        “Most of our accidents are on rural roads — roads that are narrow — and if you drive off the road and if you overcorrect, you overcorrect into oncoming traffic.”

        Traditionally, there have been more traffic deaths in the second half of the year. Mr. Pigman said that may be because of increased travel for vacations and holidays from July to December.

        Mr. Pigman said the percentage of people in Kentucky using seat belts has increased from 9 percent in 1985 to 62 percent last year. He said that the rate began to climb because of an aggressive public awareness campaign and that it spiked in 1994 following passage of a state law requiring seat-belt use.

        While 900 fatalities would not be a record for traffic deaths in Kentucky, it would place 2002 among the worst in the past 25 years. In the 1960s and early 1970s, before modern safety devices were required on cars, it was common for Kentucky fatalities to top 1,000, according to federal transportation data.

        Lisa Rudzinski, a spokeswoman for the Kentucky State Police, said state troopers will be out in force this weekend in an attempt to limit fatalities.

        Ms. Rudzinski said all but a few state troopers — even detectives and commanders — were required to work the highways Wednesday and will be out on Sunday — the two busiest travel days of the weekend.

        An additional 250 troopers will take to the road, bringing the total working highway duty to 900.


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