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Distraction, drinking among causes for high traffic death toll

Mary Wisniewski, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Automotive News

CHICAGO -- The traffic death toll in Chicago is growing, and the national count remains at historic highs, despite new car safety technology.

That means it's past time to slow down, stay sober and stop trying to multitask while you drive, according to traffic safety experts.

"We're really treading water in terms of roadway safety, which is unfortunate" said Kenneth Kolosh, manager of statistics for the National Safety Council, a safety advocacy organization based in Itasca. "We'd like to see actually very large decreases."

Safety improvements to cars, like crash-avoidance technology, "really haven't moved the needle," Kolosh said. He cited a host of factors contributing to the high death count: more cars on the roads because of low gas prices and an improved economy, distracted drivers and pedestrians, high speeds and alcohol use.

In Chicago, the number of traffic deaths rose sharply last year over 2016, to 133 from 113, an 18 percent jump, according to city transportation and police department figures. This is above the 2011-15 average of 126.2

In the U.S., traffic deaths and injuries have plateaued, with a slight decrease of 1 percent from 2016 to 2017, with an estimated 40,100 people killed and 4.57 million seriously injured on the roads, according to data released last week by the National Safety Council. The council gets preliminary numbers from all 50 states ahead of the official count that will be released in December by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

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But a plateau is nothing to be happy about -- it's just a leveling off of the steepest two-year increase in over 50 years, according to the council. Deaths have exceeded 40,000 for two years in a row.

Illinois has followed the national trend -- the numbers remained largely unchanged from 2016 to 2017, but deaths last year were six percent higher than they were in 2015, the National Safety Council said.

In Chicago, deaths for motor vehicle drivers and passengers rose to 80 last year from 63 in 2016; pedestrian deaths rose to 46 from 44; and bicycle fatalities involving motor vehicles rose from 6 to 7. Pedestrian and bike deaths were both above the 2011-15 average of 38.2 and 6.2, respectively.

There has also been a large increase nationally in pedestrian deaths -- up 9 percent in 2016 from 2015, along with an increase in fatalities for other vulnerable road users such as cyclists and motorcycle riders, Kolosh said. Pedestrian, bike and motorcycle numbers were not yet available nationally for 2017.


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