Editorial: Reducing rising traffic fatalities is on all of us

  • A two-vehicle collision in Mount Prospect last March was one of 1,237 fatal crashes in 2021, a 32% increase compared to the pre-COVID year 2019.

    A two-vehicle collision in Mount Prospect last March was one of 1,237 fatal crashes in 2021, a 32% increase compared to the pre-COVID year 2019. Daily Herald File Photo

 
The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted1/19/2022 1:00 AM

Fewer cars were on the road during the long and isolating months of the COVID-19 pandemic. So, you'd expect that traffic fatalities would drop as well.

But that didn't happen in 2020. And it didn't happen in 2021.

 

In fact, deadly vehicle crashes rose in both of those years -- a trend that has transportation and safety experts concerned.

Consider the numbers:

Deadly crashes rose by 16% in 2020 compared to 2019 even though COVID-19 greatly reduced the number of cars on the road.

The next year brought an even deadlier toll. Fatal crashes in Illinois reached 1,237 in 2021, a 32% increase over 2019. Those crashes claimed 1,359 lives. And that's still with less traffic, Marni Pyke reported earlier this week.

"I think that it is time to ring the alarm bells here," Northwestern University transportation expert Ian Savage told Pyke. "It was plausible that 2020 was an aberration. But this is persisting -- and getting worse."

There are a number of reasons why, experts say.

Less crowded roads allow for greater speeds, for starters. Accidents at high speeds are far deadlier than fender benders in bumper-to-bumper traffic.

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Distractions, exhaustion, alcohol and stress also factor in.

As suburban drivers, we need to take a hard look at what we can do to keep ourselves and others safe on the road. Before we get behind the wheel, we need to ask whether we are OK to drive. Drowsiness can lead to tragedy. Driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol do as well -- claiming lives and, potentially, a drunken driver's freedom.

Once on the road, we need to pay attention to the speedometer. Staying within the speed limit -- and slowing down when weather issues, bikers or pedestrians are involved -- saves lives.

So does controlling stress, preventing frustration from spiraling into anger and anger from churning into road rage.

Limiting distractions is key. We have to resist the urge to fumble with our phones and respond to texts while behind the wheel.

We also have to be mindful of others around us, including cars weaving dangerously through traffic or drivers too busy checking missed messages to pay attention to the road.

"At the end of the day, people have got to drive defensively, not offensively, not be in a hurry, and put the phone down," said Patrick Gengler, chief deputy of the Kane County sheriff's office.

So, buckle up, slow down and keep distractions at bay. You'll save lives, including your own.

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