State’s traffic deaths continue to fall

From 2005 to 2013, Georgia has experienced a 32-percent reduction in traffic fatalities. The data from 2013 revealed that 1,186 people were killed on the roads of our state. That number is more than the individual population of almost half the cities in our state.

For eight consecutive years, Georgia has seen the fatality numbers go down to the lowest point since record keeping began more than 60 years ago.

There are many factors that contributed to the trend. More Georgians are using their seat belts than ever before. A study conducted by the University of Georgia for the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety showed 95 percent of motorists on Georgia roads are now wearing seat belts. That number has increased since 2010, when the state began requiring seat belt use in pickup trucks.

In addition, parents in our state are securing their children in child passenger safety seats, as required by state law. This includes a greater number of 6- and 7-year-olds in booster seats, which elevates the child and makes the vehicle seat belt cross their bodies at the hips, rather than across the soft tissue of their lower abdomen.

We can also attribute the improved numbers to the use of high-visibility traffic enforcement. The Office of Highway Safety, in partnership with the Georgia State Patrol and local law enforcement agencies, has conducted campaigns in a number of areas across the state.

In Augusta, an enforcement campaign, combined with an enhanced traffic unit established by Richmond County Sheriff Richard Roundtree, resulted in a 50-percent reduction in traffic fatalities in 2013.

But our state is not content to rest on current numbers. The state’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan includes a long-range goal of moving toward zero deaths, a national concept that has been adopted by many states. To do this, we must continue our educational and enforcement efforts.

The fiscal 2015 state budget, as passed by the General Assembly, includes $2.9 million to fund driver’s training programs for our youngest and least experienced drivers. Better preparing our young drivers will help us continue to reduce teen deaths on our roads.

The graduated driver’s license, as prescribed in the Teen and Adult Driving Responsibility Act, has resulted in fewer 16-year-olds getting their licenses. Data shows more teens are waiting until age 17 to get their driver’s licenses, opting to spend more time behind the wheel with a learner’s permit and an adult in the passenger seat to supervise.

Other challenges that Georgia must face include an increased usage of both illegal and prescription drugs by drivers. The number of cases of driving under the influence of drugs is rising annually.

The growing problem of texting and driving continues to contribute to traffic injuries and deaths. All of these require new and innovative approaches.

We must also pay attention to the number of fatalities involving people using alternative modes of transportation, such as bicyclists and pedestrians. A top priority for our agency and our partners is the education of drivers on sharing the road with those who bike, jog or walk.

Georgia has much to celebrate in the reduction of deaths on our roads, but a great deal of work remains, and it will require a partnership with the motoring public to make these numbers continue to go down.

Harris Blackwood is director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.