WILMINGTON — Traffic fatalities on Delaware roadways rose by nearly 12 percent in 2012, an increase caused in part by a spike in pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities, according to preliminary figures from State Police and the Delaware Office of Highway Safety.
Police recorded 115 traffic deaths last year, compared with 103 in 2011. Thirty pedestrians died on Delaware roads last year, compared with 19 the previous year. Four bicyclists died, while there were no cycling deaths in 2011.
“The sheer increase in pedestrian fatalities and the astronomical number of bicycle fatalities, that’s where our increases are this year,” said Highway Safety Director Jana Simpler. “We also continue to see the effects of speeding, failure to yield and alcohol use.”
Alcohol played a role in 43 percent of traffic fatalities statewide, including two since Christmas Eve. That figure excludes another 20 crashes, in which investigators are still analyzing if impairment was a factor, said Alison Kirk, community relations officer for OHS. Motorcyclist deaths remained largely unchanged at 17 (down from 18 in 2011).
While it’s Delaware’s first bump in traffic deaths since 2008, the total is still down from a high of 148 fatalities in 2003. Also around the country, traffic deaths are up after six years of decline.
“The fact that numbers are climbing again reminds us that we have to work harder to curb some of these trends,” said Jim Lardear of AAA Mid-Atlantic.
Nationwide, a 7.1-percent jump during the first nine months of 2012 was the biggest increase during that period since federal officials began compiling data on traffic deaths in 1975. However, that jump is starting from a low baseline, as traffic deaths hit a 60-year low in 2011, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The downward national trend stems from a combination of factors, including stricter teen-driving laws, increased use of airbags and seat belts, advances in trauma medicine and focused efforts on drunken driving.
It’s too early to determine what’s driving 2012’s increase, but safety experts suspect the influence of last year’s warm winter — bad weather keeps people off roads — and the improving economy.
“With more discretionary money to spend, people are driving more, so their exposure is going up,” said Jonathan Adkins, deputy executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association. “With more money, people typically spend it on going to bars, traveling on weekends. Teens might have a job to go to that they didn’t a couple years ago.”
It’s largely unclear what’s driving pedestrian deaths, although one theory has to do with the growing incidence of texting or other phone-use while walking, Adkins said.
“The trend of increasing pedestrian fatalities has us concerned,” said Simpler of OHS. “What we’re concentrating on now is doing an analysis of the crashes from the last year. We’re doing as much as we can to determine if there’s any trend and coming up with a plan, hopefully before spring.”
OHS campaigns last year included efforts to boost seatbelt use and to curb impaired, distracted and aggressive drivers — all problem areas identified by crash and arrest data. Aggressive driving includes behavior such as speeding, failing to yield the right of way, making an unsafe lane change, passing on the shoulder, ignoring a traffic control device and following too closely.
On Tuesday, Delaware police departments wrapped up several weeks of targeted DUI “saturation” patrols and checkpoints focused on the holiday season.
Earlier in the fall, special patrols targeted distracted drivers, netting 1,830 motorists who were stopped and ticketed during the two weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, according to OHS.
AAA Mid-Atlantic calls those results promising, especially considering enforcement in Pennsylvania, where this year distracted-driving became a primary offense punishable by a $50 fine.
“During the first six months from when the law took effect in March 2012, Pennsylvania had a total of 796 citations,” said Lardear, whose organization got the data via public-records requests. “That’s about half of what police wrote in just a few weeks in Delaware.”
Citations from the greater Philadelphia region — with a population almost twice that of the First State — comprised about 45 percent of the total.
Delaware Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security Lewis D. Schiliro said a few police agencies, including Greenwood, Newport, Oceanview and Smyrna, averaged more than one arrest an hour during the two-week campaign.
Highway Safety’s next campaign targets DUI offenders during football playoff weekends this month and Super Bowl weekend.
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Source: Accident in Com