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Traffic safety improvements by the numbers

The North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) is in the process of reviewing and rewriting their Strategic Highway Safety Plan. The Department has asked a variety of outside organizations to participate through a series of meetings. The review panel includes prosecutors, traffic engineers, law enforcement officers, emergency medical providers, traffic safety program coordinators and staff members of NDDOT. The plan will be used to focus funding and resources on activities relating to traffic safety with the ultimate goal of zero traffic fatalities.

To plan for the future it is necessary to look to the past to see what contributes to fatal crashes in North Dakota. Overwhelming, ninety-three percent of the fatal crashes were due to driver behaviors.

Not wearing seatbelts, using alcohol and driving aggressively were the top three factors. Of the 93 percent 57 percent were the fault of the driver alone while twenty-six percent were a combination of the roadway design and the driver's behavior. The driver's behavior did not allow the driver the opportunity to safely negotiate the condition present on the roadway.

The driver's vehicle was the sole contributing factor in only two percent of the crashes. A combination of a vehicle malfunction and the driver's behavior were responsible for six percent of the fatal crashes. The driver's behavior did not allow the driver to react properly to a tire blowout, a mechanical malfunction or a shifting load. Three percent of the time it was the combination of driver behavior, roadway design and vehicle malfunction. The statistics were obtained through the analysis of motor vehicle crash reports completed by law enforcement officers in North Dakota.

A surprising statistic presented during the most recent meeting was on the use of alcohol in relation to fatal traffic crashes. Eighty percent of the impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes had no previous arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol or had a single arrest prior to the crash event.

The Strategic Highway Safety Plan will address the four 'E's of traffic safety to include enforcement, engineering, emergency services and education. Law enforcement agencies will be asked to target enforcement efforts on those driver behaviors which contribute to traffic crashes. They will conduct high visibility campaigns to draw attention to the enforcement activities.

State and local highway engineers will be asked to study traffic patterns and roadway designs to determine what improvements could be made. The engineers will also add safety features to roadways such as centerline and road edge rumble strips, intersection lighting and shoulder tapers.

Emergency medical service providers will study how best to provide rapid emergency care to traffic crash victims throughout the state. Specific concern for staffing of rural volunteer ambulance services will take priority.

The greatest potential for changing driver behavior will be through the use of educational opportunities.

The prosecutors, engineers, law enforcement, emergency medical providers, traffic safety program coordinators and staff members of NDDOT as individual agencies and in a collaborative effort will provide information on methods to improve traffic safety. Public education will occur during enforcement campaigns, through published materials and through public service announcements.

NDDOT has coordinated the production of short videos and commercial with strong traffic safety messages. If drivers are willing to modify their driving behaviors the goal of zero traffic fatalities is an obtainable goal.