A crash course in safety

-A A +A
By James Roberts

Traffic citations were up and fatal crashes were down in Taylor County last year.

Six people died in six crashes in Taylor County in 2007. In 2006, seven people died in five crashes.

Though only a slight drop, it continues the downward trend since local traffic deaths peaked in 2005 when 13 people died. Four people died on Taylor County roads in 2004 and 2003.

Traffic fatalities are down statewide as well. Last year, 852 people died on Kentucky highways, according to a Kentucky State Police release, 61 fewer than in 2006.

Local officials speculate that the number of fatalities is low due to two things - increased police presence and the efforts of Arrive Alive Taylor County, a local traffic safety committee.

Increased patrols have led to a dramatic increase in traffic tickets. In 2007, there were 4,325 traffic tickets written. There were 3,643 written in 2006 and 2,018 written in 2005.

"We've had an increase in citations for two reasons," Campbellsville Police Chief Dennis Benningfield said. "The main reason is an increase in traffic collisions. Increased patrols through the highway safety program also played a part."

Through the Governor's Highway Safety Program, which provides state funds for law enforcement activities, allows the department to target peak traffic times for more patrols.

In 2007, Campbellsville Police officers wrote 1,414 speeding tickets, made 180 DUI arrests and investigated 622 collisions. In 2006, Campbellsville police wrote 1,018 speeding tickets, made 160 DUI arrests and investigated 607 collisions.

Taylor County Sheriff John Shipp said his department issued few traffic tickets, with most of its time dedicated to court duties. The sheriff's department issued 139 speeding tickets in 2007, he said.

After 13 people died in crashes in Taylor County in 2005, Taylor Regional Hospital Urgent Care Director Carol Wright and Campbellsville/Taylor County Rescue Director Dan Durham began discussing the need for community-wide highway safety education.

"In 2005, we had 13 traffic-related deaths," Wright said. "In the previous two years, we only had four deaths each year. In 2005, we had so many fatalities, especially among the teenage population."

That discussion eventually gave birth to Arrive Alive Taylor County, a group made up of community volunteers, which compiles highway safety data and offers traffic safety training. Wright and Durham are co-chairs of the group. Arrive Alive Taylor County meets the second Monday of every month at noon in the Rescue conference room. Everyone is invited to attend.

After input from law enforcement, the group determined that seat belt usage, driver inattention, speed and alcohol and drugs were the factors most common in fatal collisions.

Gearing their efforts toward both local high schools, Arrive Alive Taylor County began focusing on all those issues, especially seat belt usage.

"The [financial] impact of the just the [injury collisions] to our state, our county and our country is astronomical," Wright said. "The only prevention is education."

Among the group's efforts is the Seat Belt Challenge, an annual competition in which seat belt usage at both high schools is surveyed. The school with the highest percentage of students buckling up receives a trophy sponsored by Farm Bureau.

The winner of this year's challenge will be announced tomorrow during the Taylor County/Campbellsville boy/girl doubleheader at Campbellsville.

This year, Arrive Alive plans to expand the challenge to cover seat belt usage during the entire year, as well as place more focus on other age groups.

Statewide, seat belt usage was up in 2007, according to Kentucky Department of Transportation statistics. An average of 71.8 percent of motorists on Kentucky roads wore seat belts in 2007, compared to 67.2 percent in 2006.

In 2007, Campbellsville police wrote 1,345 tickets for failure to wear seat belts compared to 487 in 2006.

The stats show a dramatic increase in tickets for failure to wear seat belts, Benningfield said, which is due to it becoming a primary offense.

The new seat belt law, which took effect in January 2007, allowed police to pull over a driver and issue a $25 fine for not wearing a seat belt. Previously, law enforcement officials could only issue citations for seat belt violations if drivers were stopped and charged with other offenses.

The law was passed in 2006, but, for six months, law enforcement officials were required to issue courtesy warnings to those who violated the law rather than citations.

Locally, more motorists are wearing seat belts, Benningfield said. Periodically, Campbellsville Police officers monitor drivers along the city's major roads, Benningfield said. The last survey showed that 70 percent of drivers wore seat belts, up from the previous figure of 50 percent several months ago.

While the primary seat belt law has been an impact, Wright believes Arrive Alive's efforts also helped increase local seat belt usage.

"We feel like we've made an impact if we save one person."

So far, 2008 is seeing more than its fair share of collisions.

"The last few months we have really been swamped with collisions," Benningfield said, the likely culprit being an increase in traffic due to holiday and post-holiday shopping. The majority of those collisions involved a vehicle rear-ending another due to driver inattention.

"That is the reason for most of the crashes. People are talking on cell phones, eating, playing with the radio ... anything that is a distraction," Benningfield said.

Of the 622 collisions Campbellsville Police investigated in 2007, more than 100 occurred in parking lots, Benningfield said.

"A lot of people are backing out of lots and are not looking," Benningfield said. "They look before they back out but they need to continue looking until they come to a complete stop."

Shipp said his department investigated two fatalities in 2007. Speed and wet roads were factors in one, while fog and failure to yield were factors in the second.

For 2008, Campbellsville Police will focus on seat belt usage.

"This year our main goal is to concentrate on all the major highways and looking at occupant protection."

Campbellsville Police and Taylor County Sheriff's departments received highway safety funding in October to target occupant protection. Campbellsville Police received $26,000 and Taylor County Sheriff's Department received $8,450 for enforcement of seat belt laws.

Benningfield said KY 55, U.S. 68, KY 289, KY 210 and KY 70 will be the focus areas. Of those, KY 70 probably sees more than its fair share of crashes.

"That seems to be our high incident area," Benningfield said. "It's heavily traveled and it's an old road. It has grades and dips. We have a lot of collisions on that road."

Shipp is optimistic that the number of fatal collisions in the county will remain low.

"The number is down. Hopefully it stays that way. If we can increase patrols and people watch what they are doing, the numbers should go down."

- Staff Writer James Roberts can be reached at 465-8111 Ext. 226 or by e-mail at writer@cknj.com.