The number of fatal traffic accidents has careened downward this year in Douglas County, even surpassing a statewide decrease, authorities say.
Officials said there have been three fatal accidents countywide this year, a 50 percent drop from this time last year, when six fatal accidents had been reported. By this time in 1990, there had been five fatalities.
This week, the Kansas Department of Transportation announced that the number of fatality crashes statewide had declined 21 percent in the first seven months of this year compared with the same period last year. As of July 31, KDOT officials said, 190 people had died in traffic accidents on Kansas roads and highways.
Douglas County Sheriff Loren Anderson partly attributed the local decrease to more frequent use of safety belts.
"I think the statistics will tell us that more people are using seat belts, and I think that certainly has had an impact," Anderson said.
Patrice Pomeroy, KDOT public relations assistant, said Anderson's analysis was sound.
SHE SAID safety belt usage was at 14 percent before 1985, when safety belt laws were passed. Last year, that figure had climbed to 64 percent.
Pomeroy also noted that the number of accidents has remained constant over the past several years, while the number of miles being driven has increased.
Pomeroy said a variety of other factors including airbags, child restraining devices, safer automobile design, highway improvements and more vigorous law enforcement have made driving less dangerous.
Another key fact, Anderson and Pomeroy said, is that people are less tolerant of drunken driving. Anderson said he thinks fewer people are drinking and driving, and motorists are quicker to report a drunken driver.
Pomeroy added that tougher DWI (driving while intoxicated) laws and tougher enforcement have accompanied the sharpened public awareness.
THE THREE local fatality accidents occurred:
Jan. 13, when a pickup truck driven by Kent E. Cordwell, 21, Berryton, crashed about 12 miles west of Lawrence on Douglas County Road 1900N. Cordwell died at St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, Topeka, about two hours after the accident.
Jan. 29, when a car struck Theresa M. Knight, 86, 1700 Mass., as she was trying to cross Massachusetts Street just south of 17th Street. Knight died about four hours after the accident at the Kansas University Medical Center, Kansas City, Kan.
July 26, when a pickup truck driven by George "Billy" Ellifrits, 28, Baldwin, overturned about seven miles east of Lawrence on Kansas Highway 10. Ellifrits died after being thrown from the pickup.
Pomeroy said the statewide decrease appears to be part of a gradual decline; not a statistical fluke. She said fatalities have been on a downward trend for the past six or seven years.
She said fatalities peaked in 1969, when traffic accidents killed 780 people.
If the year ends with a 21 percent increase, it would be the greatest year-to-year decline ever.