Editorial: State's highway death rate dropping

Amid sour state budget reports and resulting cuts in health services and higher education, there’s a sliver of good news for

Louisiana.

According to the latest information,

the number of fatalities due to crashes on the state’s highways fell for

the fourth consecutive

year.

The LSU Highway Safety Research Group reported that 676 people were killed in Louisiana crashes in 2011, down from 720 the

year before. The death toll on Louisiana highways has been reduced nearly by one third since the record of 993 in 2007.

Equally as encouraging is the drop in the number of young people killed in crashes. Last year, 72 people died in fatal highway

crashes, down from 91 in 2010 and 134 in 2007.

“It’s difficult to overstate the

importance of the significant decline in crash deaths among young

drivers,” said LSU Professor

Dr. Helmut Schneider, who has compiled Louisiana’s crash data

statistics for more than 15 years. “The decline in crash deaths

among youths has been greater than for older drivers, and this is

making a big difference in lowering Louisiana’s overall

highway death rate.”

Said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive

director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission: “Just about every

aspect of the

2011 crash report is positive, but we are especially impressed by

the significant drop in the fatal crashes involving young

drivers, who constitute a hard-to-reach group. The Commission has

devoted many resources to educating young drivers about

highway safety, and the data seems to indicate that these efforts

are having a positive effect.”

Experts credit fewer alcohol-related fatal crashes and increased DWI enforcement and seat-belt use for the reduced numbers.

According to the report, alcohol was a factor in 45 percent of the fatal crashes in 2007 but dropped to 41 percent in 2011. Last year, law enforcement personnel made 29,922 DWI arrests, up from 25,570 DWI arrests in 2007.

The 2011 report also found that:

• More than 85 percent of driver fatalities involved lack of seat belt use, alcohol or aggressive driving.

• While more than 79 percent of Louisiana motorists buckled up in 2012, 58 percent of those killed in crashes were not wearing seat belts.

• Drivers in alcohol-related crashes are overwhelmingly males.

• Involvement in alcohol-related fatal crashes among young drivers ages 18-24 dropped by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2011.

During this holiday season, those statistics are worth remembering. To borrow the treasured Christmas song, we want everybody ‘‘to be home from Christmas.’’

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This editorial was written by a member of the American Press Editorial Board. Its content reflects the collaborative opinion of the Board, whose members include Bobby Dower, Ken Stickney,

Jim Beam, Crystal Stevenson and Donna Price.