First, the silver lining: For two consecutive years, there’s been a decrease in the number of people who died in Kansas in traffic accidents involving alcohol.
That reverses a trend in the state that had defied a steady decline in such accidents nationwide, and apparently reflects an emphasis given to the situation by lawmakers and public safety officials.
Sadly, even with the decline in fatalities in which alcohol played a role, the number of people who died in Kansas in traffic accidents rose last year by 4 percent.
All the figures, which were compiled by the Kansas Department of Transportation, are considered to be preliminary data.
Although officials may be getting the alcohol-related problem under control, possibly through a law that required an ignition interlock to be used even by first-time DUI offenders, other types of careless or reckless behavior may be propelling the overall fatality increase.
Officials plan to analyze distracted driving, which might involve cell-phone use or texting. They also intend to look into the reasons underlying a significant increase in pedestrian fatalities. And they wonder whether new, higher speed limits might play a part in the increase in traffic deaths. Finally, although it’s nothing new, the early analysis shows that 63 percent of those who died in vehicle accidents were not wearing seat belts. That’s particularly interesting given that the percentage of people who wear seat belts has steadily risen and, according to KDOT, stood at 83 percent in 2011. It’s not a direct correlation, but the idea that the 17 percent of people who don’t wear seat belts account for 63 percent of the traffic fatalities might provide some motivation for their use.
Better roads might be part of the answer to reducing highway fatalities. Anyone who has been on the new U.S. 59 between Lawrence and Ottawa can readily appreciate the difference in safety that highway has made in terms of intersections and general driving and roadway conditions.
If technology helped reduce the number of alcohol-related fatalities, can it also in some fashion address other factors believed to have contributed to traffic deaths?
What if a GPS device could sense that a phone was in a moving vehicle and shut it off?
What if it were not possible to start a vehicle unless the seat belt was properly in use?
And, perhaps, the experimental cars now being tested that can drive themselves ultimately will solve many issues related to distracted, careless and reckless — human — operation of vehicles.
In the meantime, congratulations to law enforcement officials, lawmakers and others for achieving some success. May that impel them to find solutions to other issues, making use of our roadways safer for all.