Local News

Report: Traffic deaths down in N.C. but up in Wake

Posted February 5, 2009 4:38 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— America's roads appear to be getting safer, but Wake County's roads are among those in the state that were deadlier last year than in the past.

Preliminary safety numbers nationwide show a sharp drop in traffic deaths in 2008, with 42 states showing fewer road fatalities, according to numbers obtained by USA Today.

The newspaper reports that with high gas costs and the tightening economy, people drove less to save money. Fewer trips led to fewer fatalities in many states.

North Carolina is one of those.

According to unofficial statistics from the University of North Carolina Highway Safety Research Center, fatalities in 2008 were down 320 in 2008 from 2007.

And any progress is welcome.

Official numbers from 2007 show North Carolina had the fourth-highest number of traffic deaths behind California, Texas and Florida.

While other North Carolina counties posted fewer fatal crashes in 2008, Wake County numbers grew – to 75, according to preliminary numbers. Official numbers are released in March.

Elsewhere across North Carolina, numbers are lower, according to the UNC Highway Safety Research Center, including Durham County, which saw at least 23 fatalities, and Orange with 17.

Johnston County saw fewer crashes, as did Edgecombe, Mecklenburg and Wayne counties.

Part of the reason for North Carolina's overall poor performance among the 50 states, UNC traffic researcher Eric Rodgman says, is rural roads, which often don't have shoulders.

"There is so much rural road, where the speeds are higher, we might see more fatalities for our population than many other states," he said.

High travel areas are also a factor.

The Web site,SafeRoadMaps, shows the sheer numbers in one year. By typing in an address, users can see how many fatal crashes are near any location. Road pictures and crash causes are available with a simple click.

The Center for Excellence in Rural Safety, a traffic research group with ties to the University of Minnesota, put it together with the latest nationwide information from 2006.

Rodgman says the data are key to understanding traffic safety, and he is thrilled the public has a way to get involved.

"In some cases, they can be an additional voice to help traffic safety experts about issues across the state," he said.