Local News

Study deems North Carolina's roads most deadly

Posted August 14, 2008 11:43 p.m. EDT
Updated August 14, 2008 11:56 p.m. EDT

— Traffic deaths in the United States declined last year, reaching the lowest level in more than a decade, the federal government reported Thursday. In North Carolina, however, the roads are becoming more dangerous.

The state had the nation's largest increase in traffic fatalities from 2006 to 2007.

Nationally, 41,059 people were killed in highway crashes, down by more than 1,600 from 2006. It was the fewest number of highway deaths in a year since 1994, when 40,716 people were killed.

The rate of 1.37 deaths for every 100 million miles traveled in 2007 was the lowest on record, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in its report.

North Carolina's death toll increased the most in the nation, up 121 over the previous year. In 2006, the state recorded 1,554 people killed in motor vehicle crashes. That jumped to 1,675 in 2007.

“It's very troubling,” J. Darrell Jernigan, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Program, said.

Jernigan said there is no single contributing factor behind the increase. He pointed to speeding, lack of seatbelt usage and distracted drivers, like people who drive while texting.

He said another area of concern is motorcyclists. There were 5,154 motorcycle deaths last year in the U.S., compared with 4,837 in 2006. Jernigan said fatalities in that category were also up in North Carolina.

“More folks are out there riding (motorcycles). The gas crunch is going on,” Jernigan added. “Hopefully, last year was an anomaly and things will level out and actually get better next year."

Recent state Highway Patrol statistics indicate the numbers are already trending down. Based on traffic fatalities investigated by state troopers, the state has recorded 150 fewer fatalities than at this time last year.

“That's due to aggressive enforcement, speed enforcement, DUI enforcement and overall public education,” Trooper J. E. Brewer, with the state Highway Patrol, said.

Booze It and Lose It checkpoints are a big part of the effort to keeps the roads safe. Checkpoints across the state conducted last weekend resulted in nearly 500 DWI charges.

“Before they leave that party and before they leave that bar, they say, 'I may run into that driving while impaired check.' They'll get somebody to drive for them, and that's what we want to see,” Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison said.

Other public education initiatives include the state's Click It or Ticket campaign and the R-U Buckled program targeting high school students.