State announces decline in highway traffic fatalities
Jonathan Willis and Kim West
Fewer drivers were killed on Alabama roadways in 2008 than in any other year since 1985.
Alabama recorded 618 deaths in crashes worked by state troopers that year. In 2008, preliminary numbers show 633 people lost their lives in these accidents on Alabama's highways.
That number for 2008 is a 17 percent reduction from 2007 and the lowest number of fatalities worked by state troopers in 23 years.
"When it comes to saving lives, Alabama is moving in the right direction," Gov. Bob Riley said.
"What's especially important to realize is this, our 17 percent drop in highway deaths is well above the 10 percent drop recorded nationally. That means while a decrease in highway travel has played a role, it isn't the only reason why deaths are down in Alabama."
Officials also credit the decline in deaths, crashes and injuries to the work of several state agencies, which pooled their resources to make highways safer.
Those efforts include the "Take Back Our Highways" enforcement campaigns by the Department of Public Safety, the deployment of vehicles with blood alcohol testing equipment called BAT mobiles that take drunk drivers off the roads more quickly, and construction by the Department of Transportation of new barriers along interstate medians and wider lanes on many rural highways.
While about 90 percent of all crashes are caused by driver error or driver behavior, ALDOT is doing everything it can to achieve safer highways through engineering.
ALDOT has spent more than $15 million since 2003 to add guardrails along busy sections of interstate highways where cross-median crashes are most likely. And ALDOT is spending about $50 million to add two additional feet per lane to rural two-lane highways when those roads are resurfaced to help reduce run-off-the-road crashes.
"Based on a reduction in crashes and fatalities, our statistics indicate that we've saved over 150 lives since 2003 by installing guardrails and other barriers along 180 miles of interstate highway to prevent cross-median crashes," said Transportation Director Joe McInnes. "We're also confident that our rural road widening project will begin showing reductions in fatalities in rural areas."
The BAT mobiles are a key component of Task Force Zero, a state trooper initiative to combat drunk driving. The task force focuses on detecting, testing and processing impaired drivers through increased patrols and DUI checkpoints across the state.
The BAT mobiles are equipped with custom alcohol testing gear provided by the Department of Forensic Sciences and other equipment needed to process impaired drivers and gather evidence for court.
Despite a decrease statewide, traffic fatalities in Franklin County more than doubled in 2008 from the previous year.
According to the ADPS, 14 deaths from crashes in Franklin County were recorded in 2008, compared to only six in 2007. Ten of those fatalities occurred in rural areas, while the other four were reported as urban crashes.
Franklin County Traffic Fatalities
Year Rural Deaths Urban Deaths Total
2008 10 4 14
2007 6 0 6
2006 3 1 4
2005 7 0 7
2004 8 2 10
2003 8 3 11
-Alabama Department of Public Safety