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NCHP cites need for increased seat belt usage

AHOSKIE – Despite a deadly month of April, numbers for 2007 are encouraging.

Four people in the Roanoke-Chowan region lost their lives in highway accidents in April, bringing the total for the year to eight.

While the numbers are still a cause for concern, overall figures from the North Carolina Highway Patrol Troop A, District II office indicates the year is going better than 2006.

“Progress is being made in looking at the numbers for this year,” First Sergeant Kenny P. Pitts said. “Fatal collisions are down 30 percent as of April 30 and actual fatalities are down 20 percent.

“April was a bad month for us,” Pitts continued. “Despite that, we’re still better off by 20 percent. What that translates to is that there are two people with us that wouldn’t have been last year at this time.”

The overall statistics for District II have continually improved since Pitts became the First Sergeant in October of last year.

In January of this year, the district was acknowledged for having the greatest reduction of total collisions in Troop A during 2006.

Pitts said some of the improvement in numbers was probably luck, but said he also felt his officers were working diligently.

One area that Pitts would like to see changed is in motorists wearing seat belt restraints.

“People not wearing restraints this year has increased,” he said. “In my strategic plan for the district, I wanted to see the number of people wearing restraints increase by three percent. As of now, we’re down one percent so obviously we’re going in the wrong direction.”

Pitts said both the North Carolina Highway Patrol and the citizens of District II could help in reducing the number of collisions and the number of fatalities.

“The way we can reduce fatalities is by strict enforcement,” Pitts said. “No one likes to be told they’re wrong, but when you pay a price sometimes that will change habits.

“We try to correct bad driving habits by enforcing the law,” he added.

Another new area of focus for the local highway patrol division is educating drivers in traffic safety.

Sgt. Pitts said he is contacting every high school in Bertie, Hertford and Gates counties to have his officer teach at least a one-hour block of traffic safety.

The other way the local highway patrol office can help is in the area of engineering.

“When we have a lot of collisions in a certain area, we can work with NCDOT to give them suggestions about how to help with those problems,” Pitts said.

In fact, Pitts received information Tuesday morning that he has requested concerning the inter of N.C. 11 and N.C. 561 and N.C. 11 at N.C. 11.

“We’re going to look at the information that has been provided and see if we can make some suggestions that may alleviate our problems there,” he said. “Unfortunately, what I’ve found in my early diagnosis of the data is that many of the accidents at those inter are caused by driver error.”

He encouraged drivers using those inter to be more cautious and take an extra few seconds to make sure there were no vehicles in their blind spots before proceeding.

“If you take that extra second to make sure there isn’t a vehicle approaching or rock forward in your seat to look both ways again, it could make a big difference,” Pitts insisted.

As for the motorists in the Roanoke-Chowan region, Pitts said there are many areas in which citizens can help.

“There are lots of things you can do as individual drivers to increase traffic safety and decrease the likelihood of an accident,” he said.

One real area of concern for the N.C. Highway Patrol has been motorists who are in a hurry. Those motorists can become unsafe and be involved in accidents, according to Pitts.

“I think people need to remember that the extra few seconds they save is not cost-effective,” he said. “It’s not worth it when you consider you could hurt yourself or someone else.”

Pitts said that even if an accident didn’t cause bodily harm, it would still be cost prohibitive because of increased costs in insurance and property damage.

Pitts said that people should also reduce speed.

“I think it’s human nature to want to do a little more than the posted speed,” Pitts said. “Some people are satisfied with five over, some 10 and some even more.

“It makes good sense to slow back to the speed limit,” he continued. “The posted speed limit is there for a reason.”

The biggest concern, however, is drivers who are multi-tasking. That could be anything from eating, talking on cellular phones, putting on make-up, combing hair or even reading.

“You may get away with doing those things for a while, but eventually something will happen,” Pitts warned.

The First Sergeant said he believed the highways were getting safer in District II and he wanted that to continue.

“Our total collisions are down 6.9 percent over last year,” he closed. “That’s not just luck. We must be doing something right. There’s still a lot more to do, but we’re headed in the right direction.”