Over 1,000 people across the state died in traffic accidents in 2017 and most of them were related to driver behavior, the Arizona Department of Transportation reported last week.
For the third consecutive year, traffic deaths increased, and “yet again, impairment, speeding and reckless driving and failure to wear a seat belt are leading factors in traffic fatalities,” the department said in a release, saying alcohol or prescription or illegal drugs accounted for 43 percent of those deaths.
“These are people – 1,000 people who are no longer with us – that will be missed by mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers. Missed by family, friends and those who love them,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski.
“Every driver holds the key in their hand that can save a life if they make the right choices. Choose not to speed. Choose not to drive drunk or on drugs. Choose life for yourself and others sharing the road with you,” he added.
Halikowski’s comments came with the release of ADOT’s annual Crash Facts Report, a voluminous compilation of traffic crash sata.
Though traffic fatalities increased from 2016 to 2017 – also a national trend – the total number of crash-related injuries declined last year to 55,474 and the total number of crashes statistically stayed at 127,064.
According to the data, speeding and reckless driving were the most common driver violations in all collisions and 285 people were killed in speed-related crashes.
Pedestrians accounted for nearly a quarter of the 1,000 killed in vehicle crashes. Pedestrian-related fatalities have climbed from 155 in 2014 to 226 in 2017.
Most pedestrian fatalities occur in urban areas on city streets and county roads, prompting ADOT to note, “Pedestrians should cross streets only at marked crosswalks where drivers expect to see them.” The agency said 69 percent of crashes occurred on roads other than state highways.
“As the data shows, traffic fatalities are largely a driver issue,” said Alberto Gutier, director of the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety. “The rising number of fatalities is not a highway issue or a vehicle issue. It is a driver issue caused by impairment, speeding and reckless driving, and a number of factors, including inattention. Even with some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, drunk driving still happens in Arizona. Impaired driving must become socially unacceptable.”
The number of people killed not wearing seat belts fell for the third year in a row – from 258 in 2015, 250 in 2016 and 230 in 2017. Still, unbuckled occupants still account for nearly a quarter of all traffic fatalities.
Officially, there were 9,693 drivers involved in “distracted driving behavior” that were involved in collisions, including 33 fatal crashes.
However, ADOT said, “it is widely accepted that number of crashes caused by distracted drivers is much higher than reported because distracted drivers that cause crashes typically don’t admit to the act or died in the crash.”
Col. Frank Milstead, director of the Arizona Department of Public Safety, said, “Law enforcement continues to target distracted and impaired drivers, but, frankly, we cannot be everywhere. Highway safety is everyone’s responsibility and the message is clear: if drivers put their complete focus on driving the life they save could be their own.”