Why South Florida is seeing a decline in deadly traffic accidents

Oct 29, 2011

The following article was published in the South Florida Sun Sentinel on October 29, 2011:

Why South Florida is seeing a decline in deadly traffic accidents

By Angel Streeter 

For the last five years, traffic deaths in Broward and Palm Beach counties have dropped steadily, reflecting state and national trends.

Between 2006 and 2010, deaths from traffic crashes declined 30 percent in Broward County from 256 to 179; and 42 percent in Palm Beach County from 212 to 123.

What’s causing the historic reductions? There’s no one simple answer.

People are driving less. Spikes in gas prices in recent years made many drivers limit their trips. A sour economy created less incentive to drive, as people limited their spending and lost jobs. There was less need for them to get behind the wheel.

There is less “discretionary travel,” said Marianne Trussell, Florida Department of Transportation chief safety officer.

Florida drivers traveled more than 203 million miles in 2006. Yet by 2010, that distance fell to something over 195 million miles.

Safer vehicles

South Florida drivers are benefiting from more safety features in cars.

In recent years, the proliferation of front and side air bags and electronic stability control — which helps drivers maintain control of their vehicles — has provided extra security on the road.

Electronic stability control is preventing motorists from getting into crashes. And if they do crash, airbags are protecting both drivers and passengers, said Anne McCartt, senior researcher with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

Safety regulations

Use of seat belts has increased steadily over the years. Laws that require their use seem to make a difference.

In 2009, Florida passed its primary seat belt law. A 2010 FDOT study found seat belt use increased by 7 percent after the law was passed and enforcement began.

Faced with a rash of motorcycle deaths, the state in 2008 began requiring that bikers complete a motorcycle safety course in order to get a motorcycle endorsement on their driver’s licenses. Statewide, motorcycle deaths decreased 30 percent between 2008 and 2010.

Safety legislation makes roads safer, said state Rep. Irv Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, who has pushed through several traffic safety laws after his 14-year-old daughter, Dori Slosberg, died in an accident in 1996.

Florida’s primary seat belt law is named for her.

“People are going to listen to the law,” he said. “They don’t want to pay $170 for a ticket.”

Traffic enforcement

Saturation patrols, sobriety checkpoints and enforcement campaigns have targeted dangerous driving behavior to make traveling safer.

The Florida Highway Patrol has initiated special DUI squads in Palm Beach and Broward counties in recent years. Alcohol-related deaths have declined 50 percent in Palm Beach between 2006 and 2010. In Broward, alcohol-related deaths decreased 30 percent.

Then there is the well-known Click It or Ticket campaign. Studies have shown that seat-belt use increases after the highly visible enforcement effort.

“You have people come up to you and say, ‘Click It or Ticket,'” said Sgt. Mark Wysocky, a FHP spokesman. “It’s all about public awareness and education.”

Safety campaigns

The electronic message signs above highways, billboards, bumper stickers, safety fairs and school assemblies encourage drivers to make better decisions while driving.

The state often forms partnerships with police, traffic-safety advocates and businesses to target those most at risk on the road.

The state’s Motorcycle Safety Coalition is a prime example of how safety campaigns can reduce traffic deaths, said Trussell, the FDOT safety officer. Motorcycle clubs, dealerships, police and state safety officials worked together to encourage bikers to adopt safer riding habits and to make the general driving public more aware of bikers’ presence on the roads.

Big success

Young drivers are the most at risk of dying in a traffic crash. Yet significant strides have been made in reducing teen traffic deaths.

Teenage traffic crash fatalities in Florida declined 48 percent between 2006 and 2010.

A lot of credit goes to graduated driver’s licenses, that put restrictions on teen drivers. Moreover, high gas prices and a poor economy have had a large impact on teen driving.

And driver’s education in Florida classrooms — another piece of legislation pushed by Slosberg — also has helped.

Long way to go

Fatal crashes involving pedestrians remain a concern.

“Our biggest challenges have been in pedestrians,” Trussell said. “Their reductions have been much smaller.”

Pedestrian deaths increased 15 percent in Broward County last year and increased 3 percent statewide. In Palm Beach County, pedestrian deaths declined 46 percent.

Find this article here: http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/palm-beach/fl-traffic-crash-deaths-decline-20111029,0,2557052,full.story