The people of Louisiana – that means you – deserve congratulations for achieving four consecutive years of reduced traffic fatalities.
Louisiana’s traffic deaths peaked at 993 in 2007, then went down for the following four years. In 2011, 676 people died in crashes in our state – 317 fewer than in 2007. The nation as a whole also experienced declines in highway deaths during part of this period.
There are a multitude of reasons for these declines, some of which include increased use of seat belts and airbags, more safety features built into cars, better-engineered roads, and improved driver behaviors. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and agencies such as our Louisiana Highway Safety Commission have worked hard to implement effective safety programs – ones that save lives.
Among the more high-profile programs we sponsor are the periodic crackdowns – especially during some holiday periods – on DWI and seat belt enforcement.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that traffic deaths in Louisiana have gone down during times when seat belt use has increased. In 2012, our seat-belt use reached an all-time high of 79 percent. About 12 percent of Louisiana motorists were buckling up in the mid-1980s, prior to enactment of laws requiring seat belt use.
We’ve also seen a reduction in the percentage of fatal crashes in which alcohol played a role. In 2011, 41 percent of Louisiana crash deaths involved alcohol, down from 45 percent in 2007. With almost 30,000 DWI arrests in Louisiana in 2011, we believe more and more drivers are getting the anti-drunk driving message.
Early data on 2012 crashes indicate a slowdown in the trend of reduced highway deaths in our state. The experts who gather this crash data for the state tell us that year-to-year fluctuations are to be expected. We will also face additional challenges this year as motorists drive longer distances – something that comes with improved economic conditions.
Those of us in the field of highway safety rely heavily on well-researched data and studies compiled by experts. This research shows that 85 percent of driver fatalities involve at least one of three factors: not wearing seat belts, alcohol or aggressive driving. While we don’t rely on anecdotal information to make safety decisions, two separate head-on crashes involving two vehicles each in south Louisiana the week before Christmas seemed to have demonstrated the effectiveness of seat belts. Five of the occupants were buckled up and experienced what were described as minor injuries. Three occupants were not wearing seat belts and died at the scenes of the crashes.