Saturday, May 1, 2004

Region's road deaths decline

By James Pilcher
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Road deaths hit a record high in Kentucky in 2003, but Northern Kentucky, Ohio and Greater Cincinnati saw the number of people killed in traffic crashes drop.

In the most distinguishable trend, increasingly popular sport-utility vehicles played a bigger role in fatal wrecks everywhere.

"We're seeing a lot more people driving, especially since Sept. 11, and a lot more crashes," said Kentucky State Patrol spokesman Sgt. Phil Crumpton of the state's 943 road fatalities last year.

Overall, the region's total crash fatalities dropped from 2002, according to preliminary data obtained Friday from Ohio and Kentucky law enforcement officials.

There were 145 deaths in Southwest Ohio's four counties, and another 34 in Northern Kentucky's three counties. That total of 179 compares with 185 for the seven counties in 2002. Indiana statistics were not yet available.

"Still, an average of more than 100 people a month died on Ohio roads, " said Ohio State Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Rick Zwayer, referring to the 1,278 road fatalities in Ohio in 2003.

Nationally, the fatality rate (number of deaths compared with the amount of driving) stayed about the same, according to data released this week, even if the total number of deaths nationwide rose slightly to 43,220 in 2003.

SUVs are making up a larger percentage of fatal and overall crashes nationally and locally. SUV-involved fatalities went up by 456 in 2003 nationally, with 55 percent of those involving rollovers, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

SUVs accounted for 9.3 percent of fatal crashes in 2003 in Ohio, up from 7.8 percent in 2002. In 2003 alone, SUVs were involved in 25 fatal crashes in the four Southwest Ohio counties, or 19 percent of the total fatal crashes in the area.

Kentucky does not break out SUVs as a category, but Kentucky officials acknowledged that SUV rollovers are an issue.

"We are working on getting tougher rollover ratings on those, and just the fact that they need them should show people that they need to be driven differently than a car," said Crumpton.

While the area has seen a rash of fatalities involving teen drivers or passengers, the national rate of fatalities involving teens dropped nearly 4 percent in 2003, compared with 2002.

The statewide number of fatalities involving either drivers, passengers or pedestrians ages 16-20 dropped from 214 in 2002 to 201 in 2003. Individual county statistics by age were not available for Ohio.

In Northern Kentucky, four teenage drivers were involved in fatal wrecks, and only two teens died in 2003, compared with 14 teenage drivers involved and 13 teens killed in 2002.

Kentucky Transportation Cabinet Highway Safety Coordinator Boyd Sigler also noted a rise in lane-change wrecks, which can cause sideswipes and even head-on collisions.

Road deaths

Year  Ky.   Ohio 
2001850 1,379


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