High gas prices, recession helped save lives?

September 23, 2009 9:21:01 PM PDT
There were huge improvements in traffic safety this past year across North Carolina and the nation.In North Carolina and across the nation, America's highways in 2008 were rated the safest since the last 47 years. There were fewer traffic deaths per miles driven.

"It's fantastic news for North Carolina, NC Highway Patrol Capt. Everett Clendenin said."But we have to keep our enforcement efforts up."

The report stated there were 1,433 traffic deaths in North Carolina in 2008, which marked a 14.5 percent drop in highway fatalities. About 243 fewer people died on North Carolina roads than in 2007.

The Highway Patrol said they did not drastically change enforcement. Many experts said the big difference was simply fewer cars on the roads, triggered by $4 gasoline in the summer, then the start of the recession in the fall.

"Some may say it's because of the economy," Clendenin said. "Whatever the reason, we're just glad that the fatalities are down."

The DOT said daily traffic on the Triangle's busiest roadway, I-40 -west of Wade Avenue, has almost 5 percent lighter traffic than two years ago.

Some commuters are on buses, with Triangle Transit ridership up 19 percent.

And the Highway Patrol has tripled big truck inspections in the last five years. Big rig fatalities, which are less than a tenth of highway deaths, are also down.

"We believe what we're doing here is making a difference," Clendenin said.

Officials said teen drivers are also safer. Teenager traffic deaths are down 15 percent.

"These are good numbers," Clendenin said. "They are encouraging and we're going to do what we can to keep them down."

Officials said people may think most traffic deaths are on roads because of the traffic, but that is not the case. Last year, 70 percent of North Carolina's traffic fatalities were on rural roads, not urban interstates.

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