By Larry Christianson, ACTS Oregon Board Member
Oregon posted another dramatic drop in traffic fatalities in 2010. The preliminary figure currently available from ODOT’s Transportation Safety Division is 325. That’s nearly 14 percent lower than the 2009 figure—and one of the biggest 2010 percentage drops in the nation.
2009 was an impressive 9 percent drop from 2008. The last time Oregon saw low numbers like these was in the 1940s when there were far fewer drivers on the roads. So what’s behind all of this good news?
Fewer miles traveled:
In general terms, less exposure means fewer “opportunities” for crashes. In fact, there was a fairly dramatic reduction in miles traveled in Oregon in 2008 vs. 2007—about 5 percent—but miles bounced back almost 2 percent in 2009. So, miles increased, but fatalities still dropped 9 percent in 2009. No answer here!
Although it’s tempting to somehow pin a dramatic reduction in traffic fatalities to a dramatic downturn in the economy, fewer employed is another version of fewer miles traveled and we don't see that translate into fewer traffic deaths. No solution here.
This theory would seem to hold the most promise. When gas was at $4.25 a gallon, we knew if we slowed down, we’d save a couple bucks a tank. But the data that ODOT collects on speeds travelled on state highways doesn’t indicate sustained speed reductions that could account for such a striking drop in traffic deaths. Mystery still unsolved.
What do the experts say?
Speaking with Troy Costales, Manager of ODOT’s Transportation Safety Division, we find the following:
“I think we have to turn to those who are in the business of saving lives—essentially the 4 E's—education, law enforcement, the emergency medical technicians, and the highway engineers. In fact, one place where we find a direct correlation between safety activities and fatality reduction is in the recent spike in highway safety investments—cable and other median barrier; wider shoulders, center and edge rumbles strips, pavement marking and intersection improvements.
Federal appropriations for highway safety investments increased significantly in 2006. Safety projects planned based on this increased funding went to bid and began to pay dividends beginning in 2008—and they continue to pay us back in terms of additional lived saved every year.
Then, thanks goes to those that respond when crashes do occur. If we can’t keep the crash from occurring, if the engineering of the roads and the vehicles don’t accommodate all that happened in the crash, then it is the First Responders and the medical professionals that step in and often times save a life, prevent further injury and more times than we can count help the people involved in a crash go home to their families.”
ATTN: Oregon Safety Professionals. Are you attending