Wednesday, Dr. Noelle Hunter and the staff of the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety hosted the quarterly meeting of the Governor's Executive Committee on Highway Safety.
KBT participates in these meetings - I attend as do our Safety Committee Co-Chairs. I learn a lot and I always walk away shocked at the data presented.
As of Wednesday, March 6, 2017, 93 people have died on Kentucky roadways this year.
That's 93 people who won't be with their families this weekend - or any other weekend ever again.
Last year, 835 people died in crashes on Kentucky roadways - an increase from 2015 when 761 people died in crashes on our roadways.
In fact, Kentucky has the 4th highest fatality rate in the nation when it comes to crashes on our roadways. When you look at that data even more closely, the fatality rate on our rural roads is even higher. We rank 3rd in the nation for fatal crashes on rural roads. Our state's fatality rate on the roadways is 1.56 per 100 million vehicle miles of travel. We are higher than the national average of 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel.
That's pretty shocking info that begs the question - why is that?
Well - much of it is driver behavior. Many Kentuckians aren't buckling up when they drive. 86.75% of our driving population buckles up when they get in a car. However, the national rate for seat belt usage is 91%. That means our drivers aren't buckling up as much as other drivers in other states - meaning we are more likely to be ejected from a vehicle or to incur fatal injuries in the event of an accident.
Kentucky drivers also have a million things to distract them. From cell phones to kids to fancy entertainment systems in their cars, there seem to be lots of other things to pay attention to rather than the road.
Buckling up and putting down your phone are important steps in increasing everyone's safety on our roadways, but they aren't the only things.
Although we didn't discuss engineering during the meeting on Wednesday, I can't help but believe that it plays an important role in Kentucky's increased fatality numbers. So many of our rural roadways lack important safety features like striping, guardrails, or shoulders. I also can't help but think that driving distracted or impaired on a narrow road that lacks added safety features increases the likelihood of a fatality in the event of an accident.
I don't believe that our roads lack these added safety features out of a lack of desire on the part of our Cabinet or our elected officials. I believe it is a lack of funding that prevents those features from being included on all of our roadways.
We can't force people to always make the best decisions while they drive. We're limited to educating people about the risks of driving distracted, impaired or unbuckled. Our law enforcement is limited to enforcing our primary seat belt law. Driver behavior means that the driver has to behave - and that responsibility ultimately falls on the driver.
However, we have a responsibility to make sure our roadways are engineered and built as safely as they can possibly be - but that takes money. We can design and build the safest roadways in the country, but we can only do that with adequate, sustainable revenues, and right now our road fund is woefully short.
Kentucky is an incredible state with an incredible, interconnected transportation network. But, according to the data, we've got lots of work to do to make sure we have the safest transportation network.
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