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Distraction, drinking among causes for high traffic death toll

Mary Wisniewski, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Automotive News

Regarding alcohol use, Kolosh said the U.S. is "out of line" with many other developed countries in its driving-under-the influence laws. The U.S., Canada and Great Britain all use the .08 alcohol standard while most other countries charge drivers if they are caught with blood alcohol levels of .05 or less.

"Research shows there's really no safe level of alcohol in your system while you're driving," Kolosh said.

In the 1990s, states started increasing highway speed limits, and some western states now allow speeds of 80 mph. "While you may save some time with higher speed limits, you're paying for those few minutes with lives lost," Kolosh said.

Vision Zero and crashes

The city put forward a "Vision Zero" plan last June to eliminate traffic deaths and serious crashes. Under the plan, the city said it is pushing for more safety education, intersection changes like curb "bump-outs" to shorten walking distances across streets, and encouraging policies and technologies that make for safer vehicles and professional drivers.

The city said it is also focusing efforts on high-crash areas, which tend to be in low- to moderate-income communities, including Austin on the West Side, Belmont-Cragin on the Northwest Side and Englewood on the South Side.

Vision Zero programs are being tried in other cities around the world, including New York, which began its program in 2014 and has seen a 45 percent decrease in pedestrian deaths, according to the city's website.

So far, Chicago Vision Zero representatives have reached out to almost 8,000 residents on the West Side about ways to make the streets safer, according to Luann Hamilton, deputy commissioner of Chicago's transportation department.

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Kyle Whitehead, government relations director of the Active Transportation Alliance, said he did not see the increase in fatalities as showing that Vision Zero is not working -- it just started.

But Whitehead said the death numbers are evidence that more needs to be done at a city, state and national level to reduce dangerous travel behavior, like speeding.

"All of these crashes are preventable," Whitehead said.

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