Total fatalities stay high
The number of people killed in Kansas auto accidents rose 5 percent in 2012, to 402 deaths, according to preliminary data from the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Pete Bodyk, KDOT traffic safety manager, said the reason for the increase isn’t clear, and the state has seen a general decline for more than a decade. But as officials sort through last year’s reports, they’ll be looking at distracted driving, a spike in pedestrian accidents, increased speed limits and failure to wear seat belts as possible contributors to the deadly accidents.
KDOT officials suspect distracted driving, including texting and cellphone use, may play a role in keeping the fatality numbers high, but in many accidents there may not be actual evidence of this.
Some other key numbers from state statistics:
• Pedestrian fatalities jumped from 20 to 30 last year, with many killed trying to cross highways.
• In July 2011, speed limits increased from 70 to 75 mph along most of the Kansas Turnpike and U.S. highways 69 and 81.
• 63 percent of fatality victims were not wearing seat belts.
For the second straight year, the number of alcohol-related traffic fatalities in Kansas has dropped, according to preliminary data from the Kansas Department of Transportation.
Such deaths were nearly cut in half between 2011, when the state recorded 102 deaths, and 2012, which recorded just 57.
Alcohol-related traffic accidents also declined in 2012 to 2,184, the lowest number in more than a decade.
The decreasing trend comes after years of increases in alcohol-related traffic fatalities and accidents in the state, while the rest of the nation has seen a steady decline.
Pete Bodyk, traffic safety manager for KDOT, said it's encouraging news in an area lawmakers and public safety officials have emphasized in recent years.
"It's been one of the toughest things" figuring out how to cut alcohol-related traffic fatalities and accidents, Bodyk said.
Though it's difficult to pinpoint an exact cause and effect, Bodyk points to the DUI ignition interlock law, effective July 2011, that requires even first-time DUI offenders to use an ignition interlock device.
Bodyk also said increasing efforts by police have most likely helped curb the numbers.
"It's more the awareness that law enforcement are out there," Bodyk said.
Bodyk said he'd like to see two more years of decreasing numbers before he calls the decrease a trend.
Though the numbers across Kansas have dropped, Lawrence saw a number of high-profile alcohol-related incidents in 2012, including an accident where a Kansas University student lost his legs, and a mid-day head-on crash involving a repeat DUI offender.