Wyoming traffic deaths decline despite '08 bump

Monday, April 6, 2009
Associated Press writer
CHEYENNE-- The number of traffic fatalities in Wyoming increased slightly last year, but over this decade, road deaths in the state are trending downward, a state transportation official said Monday.

There were 159 traffic accident fatalities in 2008 in Wyoming, according to the Wyoming Department of Transportation. That was up 10 fatalities from 2007 but still lower than the 195 fatalities in 2006. The 2008 count was down almost 10 percent from 2002.

State Highway Safety Engineer Matthew Carlson said that despite some year-to-year fluctuations, Wyoming's highway fatality rate has been trending downward because of the state's structurally sound roadways and increased emphasis on safety programs.

"We've been targeting some of the bigger behavioral problems for Wyoming, which are drinking and driving, DUI problems, seat belt usage and speeding," Carlson said.

A study released Monday by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that traffic accident fatalities across the country dropped 9 percent between 2007 and 2008 to about 37,300 deaths.

The study, which grouped states by region, said the region including Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nevada, Utah and Colorado experienced an 8 percent drop in traffic fatalities.

Transportation policy experts attributed the national decline partly to the fact that fewer people were driving because of high gas prices and the recession.

Judie Stone, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said that historically, motorist deaths have increased after dips that are caused by economic factors. She said states including Wyoming should take the opportunity to enact stricter safety laws.

She said Wyoming policy makers should consider revising state laws regarding seat belt and motorcycle helmet usage, drunken driving prevention and teen driver programs. Wyoming doesn't require motorcycle helmets for riders over age 17, and it has a "secondary seat belt law," meaning drivers can be ticketed for not wearing a seat belt only when they're pulled over for another offense

"Now is the time to get in place the type of laws that we need," Stone said. "The deaths will go up. This is what always happens."

The national study released Monday found that seat belt usage declined 4 percent in Wyoming in 2008 to 69 percent of state residents. Seat belt use nationwide was 83 percent.

"We really are trying to educate and explain to the public and government officials the benefits of seat belt usage," said Carlson, of the transportation department.


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