Traffic

AAA: Alcohol, motorcycles drive jump in N.C. traffic deaths

Posted September 8, 2008 1:23 p.m. EDT
Updated September 8, 2008 8:59 p.m. EDT

— An increase in motorcycle and drunken driving deaths were two primary causes for a 7.8 percent jump in traffic fatalities in North Carolina last year at the same time that national numbers were dropping, the AAA said Monday.

North Carolina reported the largest increase nationally in traffic fatalities in 2007, to 1,675 from 1,554 in 2006. The number of traffic fatalities nationwide fell by 3.9 percent last year.

“This is a major public health issue for this state,” David Parsons, president and chief executive of AAA Carolinas, said in a statement.

AAA analyzed crash statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other data and reached the following conclusions:

  • Motorcycle deaths increased 37 percent, from 138 to 189, last year.
  • Fatalities involving alcohol increased 25 percent last year, from 390 to 489.
  • The state Highway Patrol has expanded its personnel 2.1 percent over the last five years, adding 38 troopers, while miles traveled increased 10.5 percent and the state’s population grew 7.6 percent.
  • The number of defendants charged with speeding offenses from 2003 to 2007 increased 21 percent, while convictions on those charges increased 6 percent. Speeding is a contributing factor in more than one-third of the state’s crashes.

North Carolina’s death rate, measured in deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, is 1.8 compared with the record-low national rate of 1.37.

“It is vehicle speed, drinking and driving, inexperienced motorcycle riders, lenient courts and too few officers on the streets and highways that are turning our state’s highways into some of the most dangerous in the nation,” Parsons said.

A loophole in North Carolina’s law allows a motorcyclist to receive an 18-month learner's permit by passing a vision and highway sign test, and the permit can be renewed indefinitely, he said. The loophole needs to be closed, he said.

“You can legally drive a motorcycle on public streets without ever taking a Division of Motor Vehicle road test or a state-approved motorcycle training (and) education course,” he said. “Motorcyclists and scooter riders should be required to demonstrate their riding ability before being allowed to drive on public roads.”

Parsons said alcohol-related crashes in the state are increasing and are increasingly more deadly.

“Increased enforcement and conviction of people driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs is essential," he said, adding that law enforcement also needs to crack down on speeding.

“Our criminal justice system has to begin taking traffic offenses seriously,” he said. “Nearly half of all those charged are not convicted, many having their cases dismissed by pleading to a lesser offense to avoid insurance or license points.”

Virginia reported a 6.8 increase in traffic fatalities last year, the second-highest increase.