Louisiana sees decline in highway crashes, overall fatalities

Staff Writer
Gonzales Weekly Citizen

BATON ROUGE – There were fewer fatal crashes on Louisiana roadways in 2013 than 2012, resulting in lower overall fatalities and a drop in crash-related deaths involving pedestrians and bicycle riders, according to newly finalized data.

Of those killed, impaired driving and lack of seat belt use were the main contributing factors in their deaths.

The findings are included in the 2013 Louisiana Traffic Records Data Report, which is compiled annually by the LSU Highway Safety Research Group. The HSRG, led by LSU Professor Dr. Helmut Schneider, compiles validated traffic safety data to inform safety experts about the causes of crashes and to assist them in measuring the progress they are making in saving lives.

According to the report, Louisiana’s fatal crashes fell slightly to 651 in 2013. These crashes claimed the lives of 703 people, down 2.9 percent from 2012 -- and a 29.2 percent drop from 2007. Contributing to this overall improvement was a decline in pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. Pedestrian deaths decreased from 122 in 2012 to 98 in 2013. Bicycle fatalities dropped by 45.8 percent -- from 24 in 2012 to 13 in 2013. Despite an overall decrease in fatalities, there were 489 drivers killed in 2013, an increase of 6.8 percent over the previous year.

Louisiana’s drop in overall highway deaths in 2013 contributed to a 3.1 percent decrease in fatalities nationwide from 2012. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data shows that, in 2013, 32,719 people died in traffic crashes. (See a link to NHTSA’s release below.)

“It’s encouraging to see an overall decline in lives lost on our roadways. After an increase in 2012, prompted by a rise in pedestrian and bicycle fatalities, we’re back on track for continued progress,” said Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.

LeBlanc attributed the decrease in overall fatalities to tougher impaired driving and seat belt laws, more robust enforcement, and strategically targeted public information campaigns that have helped educate Louisianans about the causes of traffic crashes.

However, he said, there is room for improvement. At least 58 percent of drivers and 52 percent of passengers who died in crashes in 2013 were not properly buckled up. This, despite the fact that Louisiana’s seat belt usage rate increased to 84.1 percent, the highest rate recorded, based on the 2014 Louisiana Seat Belt and Motorcycle Helmet Use Observation Survey.

In addition, at least 298 or 42 percent of the traffic fatalities in 2013 were alcohol- related (defined by the HSRG as involving a driver or non-motorist with a Blood Alcohol Concentration level of .01 or above), a slight increase over 2012. According to NHTSA, 33 percent of Louisiana’s fatal crashes in 2013 involved a driver or pedestrian with a BAC level of .08 or higher, compared to 31 percent nationally. In Louisiana an adult driver can be arrested with a BAC of .08 or higher. The limit for drivers under 21 is .02 BAC.

“Over the past seven years, we have made tremendous progress. In 2007, Louisiana suffered 993 traffic fatalities, compared with 703 in 2013 – a drop of almost 30 percent. The data tells us we're doing what needs to be done,” LeBlanc said. “Our law enforcement officers and traffic safety partners are working very hard and diligently out there. But we know improvements are still necessary as long as there’s even one traffic-related death.”

Louisiana State Police Superintendent Colonel Mike Edmonson said, “The partnerships between Troopers and local first responders conducting proactive educational campaigns, targeted enforcement of dangerous safety violations, and increased visibility on our highways have proven to be extremely effective in saving lives. Our Troopers will remain dedicated to highway safety; however, the task of reducing crashes on our roadways is also a partnership with the public requiring the use of good decisions and responsible behavior behind the wheel.”

Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Sherri LeBas, whose agency helps finance the data report, said, “While much of this data is encouraging, there is more to be done to continue to reduce the fatality numbers. To achieve the goal of zero deaths on our roadways, everyone must work to make this their goal. Motorists should always remember to give their full attention to their task on the road when driving a vehicle, wear their seatbelt and don’t drive impaired. Pedestrians and cyclists should be aware of their surroundings and follow the rules of the road.”

LeBas said motorists can learn more about making zero deaths an attainable goal by visiting www.destinationzerodeaths.com.

Other statistics for 2013 include:

The fatal alcohol-related crash rate for youth, ages 15 to 24, declined for the second consecutive year. The alcohol-related crash rate for 18-24 year olds has been trending downward over the past five years.

Rear seat belt use in 2013 increased slightly to 54.9 percent from 2012. However, it increased markedly from a rate of 27.2 percent in 2008. Louisiana’s seat belt law expanded to include rear-seat passengers in 2009.

Eighty-six people were killed on motorcycles in 2013, an increase of 10.3 percent over the previous year. Known helmet use in motorcycle crashes was 88 percent in 2013, down from 91 percent in 2012.

The number of pedestrians killed in 2013 was 98, which decreased by 20 percent from 2012.

The fatality rate of male drivers is significantly higher than female drivers. Of the 489 driver fatalities in 2013, 372 (76%) were male and 117 were female.

Louisiana’s 2013 highway crashes cost the citizens of Louisiana $5.7 billion dollars – that’s $1,905 for every licensed driver in the state.

The research conducted under Schneider’s direction is funded by the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. LSU’s Highway Safety Research Group began maintaining crash data in 1984.