By JASON KRAFT
Capital News Service
LANSING – The number of traffic deaths in Michigan rose nearly 10 percent in 2015 following a 7.9 percent decrease the previous year.
The 972 deaths reported so far is up 9.7 percent from the previous year, according to the Traffic Improvement Association of Michigan, a coalition of groups that analyze accident data. It is just the fourth time Michigan has seen an increase in annual traffic fatalities in the past 11 years.
“They’ve been trending down over the last decade,” said Anne Readette, communications manager of the State Police’s Office of Highway Safety Planning. In 2004 there were 1,159 reported Michigan traffic deaths.
The increase is part of a national trend. Nationwide there was an 8 percent increase in traffic deaths over the first half of 2015 compared to the year before, according to a recent report in Governing, an online news organization covering state and local government.
Final 2015 Michigan traffic statistics are still being compiled by the State Police. Officials expect to release them in the spring.
There could be multiple reasons for the increase.
“We can’t point to one direct cause — there are several things that contribute to fatalities increasing,” said Jamie Dolan, who represents northern Michigan on the Michigan Traffic Safety Network, a part of the Office of Highway Safety Planning.
For Michigan and the rest of the country, many people die in car crashes because they don’t use seat belts or because of drug and alcohol abuse, Readette said.
“The number-one thing drivers can do to prevent deaths in a car crash is to wear their seatbelt,” Dolan said.
But fewer people are.
Michigan’s seatbelt use rate fell from 98 percent in 2009 to 93 percent in 2014, Dolan said. “It doesn’t seem like a big fall, but if you look at the population of Michigan as a whole, that’s quite a few drivers not wearing their belt.”
Another way to reduce traffic deaths is for drivers to keep the amount of alcohol in their systems below the legal limit of .08 or to get a designated driver, Dolan said. And increased drug use, especially heroin and opioid drugs, contributes to many crashes.
Reducing speed in inclement weather is also important, she said.
The biggest way to prevent traffic deaths is by staying aware of your surroundings, and driving for the conditions, said Jocelyn Hall, the media representative for the Department of Transportation.
“We can’t generalize car crashes and say that there’s one contributing factor, but it’s always the driver’s responsibility to be in control of their vehicle,” Hall said.
Readette said that the Office of Highway Safety Planning works to reduce traffic fatalities by implementing the “four E’s”: education, enforcement, engineering and emergency services.
By JASON KRAFT