Covering Louisiana

Dec 6, 2012 2:14 PM by Press Release

Fewer younger driver deaths contribute to drop in traffic deaths

BATON ROUGE-Boosted by sharp declines in deaths among young drivers, fewer alcohol-related fatal crashes, beefed up DWI enforcement for all drivers, increased seat belt use and other factors, Louisiana's highway crash death toll declined in 2011 for the fourth consecutive year.

The LSU Highway Safety Research Group recently finalized its annual report for 2011, which includes volumes of information about Louisiana drivers, crash statistics and causes of crashes that involve death or injury. The HSRG, headed by LSU Professor Dr. Helmut Schneider, compiles the data annually to help safety experts measure progress they are making in saving lives and to better understand the causes of crashes.

The latest report shows that 676 people were killed in Louisiana crashes last year, a drop of 44 from the previous year and a reduction of about one-third since 2007, when traffic deaths peaked at 993 in the state. Some of the most dramatic progress involved young drivers, who are a high-risk group for crashes. Last year, 72 people ages 18-24 died in crashes, a drop of 19 from the previous year, and a dramatic reduction of 62 from the 134 killed in 2007.

"Just about every aspect of the 2011 crash report is positive, but we are especially impressed by the significant drop in the fatal crashes involving young drivers, who constitute a hard-to-reach group," said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. "The Commission has devoted many resources to educating young drivers about highway safety, and the data seems to indicate that these efforts are having a positive effect."

Because of their inexperience behind the wheel and risk-taking tendencies among some young-especially male-drivers, people in this category have traditionally been involved in more crashes. That's the main reason insurance rates for young male drivers are so much higher than for their older counterparts. Safety officials also believe that safety lessons and habits learned while young will often continue as people grow older.

Besides the number of actual deaths dropping, the rate of deaths per 100 million miles traveled also fell. In 2011, 1.45 traffic deaths occurred for every 100 million miles traveled, compared to 1.6 deaths the previous year and 2.19 deaths in 2007. Measuring deaths per miles traveled is a common method for recording such data.

"It's difficult to overstate the importance of the significant decline in crash deaths among young drivers," said Schneider, who has compiled Louisiana's crash data statistics for more than 15 years. "The decline in crash deaths among youths has been greater than for older drivers, and this is making a big difference in lowering Louisiana's overall highway death rate."

The research conducted under Schneider's direction is funded by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. LSU's Highway Safety Research Group began maintaining crash data in 1984.

Officials say there is a link between some of the improvements in crash deaths and stronger traffic laws and stricter enforcement. For example, alcohol was a factor in 45 percent of the fatal crashes in 2007 but dropped to 41 percent in 2011. In 2007, officers made 25,570 DWI arrests-a figure that jumped to 29,922 in 2011. "Education, enforcement and motorists who voluntarily improve their driving behaviors are all important factors in the formula for saving lives," said State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson. "While we are very encouraged by these crash trends, we also realize that one death is one too many. The Louisiana State Police will continue to work with our law enforcement and public safety partners in promoting highway safety to the citizens that we serve."

DOTD Secretary Sherri H. LeBas, whose department finances the LSU data report, said: "The results of this report demonstrate that we are one step closer in achieving destination zero deaths on Louisiana's roadways. I am proud of the strides our state has made and pledge DOTD's continued commitment to improving safety through the use of cost-effective and innovative engineering solutions."

The 2011 data also found that:

* Over 85 percent of driver fatalities involved lack of seat belt use, alcohol or aggressive driving.
* While more than 79 percent of Louisiana motorists buckled up in 2012, 58 percent of those killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts.
* Drivers in alcohol-related crashes are overwhelmingly males.
* Involvement in alcohol-related fatal crashes among young drivers ages 18-24 dropped by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2011.

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