Highway deaths decline in ‘09

Published 11:52 am Thursday, January 21, 2010

Despite an inauspicious start to 2010 with the death of two Gates County teens on Jan. 17, motor vehicle fatalities on Roanoke-Chowan area roadways were at their lowest point last year.

According to numbers provided by the North Carolina Highway Patrol’s Troop A, District II office in Ahoskie, there were 16 highway deaths in 2009, down from 20 in 2008.

The District II office covers Bertie, Gates and Hertford counties. As far as a county-by-county breakdown, Hertford County topped the list in the number of highway deaths with six. Bertie County and Gates County each experienced five deaths.

“While we would much rather experience a year where not a single person lost their life in a motor vehicle accident, it was encouraging to see a decline in the number of fatalities on our local roads in 2009,” said Troop A, District II First Sgt. Todd Lane.

The 2009 numbers translated into an 11 percent reduction in fatal collisions as well as 20 percent reduction in the number of fatalities as compared to 2008.

“It was the lowest number of fatalities in our district over the past decade,” Lane said.

Of the 16 individuals who lost their lives, exactly one-half (8) were not wearing any sort of restraint devices (seat belts/lap belts).

“We continue to stress the importance of seat belts,” First Sgt. Lane said. “Studies have shown that drivers and passengers who buckle up are less likely to be seriously injured or die as the result of a motor vehicle accident. We encourage motorists to use seat belts while a vehicle is being operated.”

Investigations into what caused last year’s fatal accidents revealed two major contributing factors – use of alcohol by the driver and overcorrecting/over steering the vehicle. Those factors were also present in the fatal accidents involving those under age 21 (five people in that age group lost their lives in local motor vehicle crashes last year).

Lane also reported that 2009 saw a 19 percent increase in the number of DWI (Driving While Impaired) arrests in the three-county area. That increase came despite the fact that a weaker economy led to an overall decrease in the number of vehicles operating on local roads.

“We will continue with our efforts to make our highways safe by arresting the risk takers – those who choose to drink and drive,” Lane noted. “It’s a simple message that I will continue to deliver to those who consume alcohol – if choose to do so, that’s your business, but please think of innocent people that will be placed in harm’s way if you choose to operate a motor vehicle after consuming alcoholic beverages. Please don’t drink and drive. If you plan to drink, either pre-arrange to have a sober person drive you or stay where you are at until you are sober to operate a motor vehicle.”

Another point of emphasis by the Highway Patrol is educating young drivers. Lane said he and the troopers assigned to the District II office will continue their involvement in the Driver’s Education classes offered locally.

“We will continue our traffic safety information program, which includes our local involvement with Driver’s Ed classes,” he said. “We will continue to seek out new and innovative ways to address teen fatalities, which are on the rise.”

One approach is involving the parents of teen drivers.

“We cannot accomplish our goals without the help and support of parents,” Lane concluded. “We are asking them to discuss the dangers of driving under the influence and reckless driving with their children. We also ask them to discourage their children from talking on a cell phone or using a cell phone to send and/or receive text messages while driving, which is now against the law in North Carolina.”