Crash fatalities are down, but may be more because of safer cars than safer driving
It seems like every few days, news of a fatal crash shakes us.
Recent examples include an SUV rear-ending a school bus near Campton Hills, resulting in two young adult passengers dying Oct. 31.
And on Oct. 29, a three-vehicle crash killed one driver and her passenger in Geneva.
But preliminary state data shows fatalities from collisions in Illinois actually dipped by 6% this year, declining from 1,113 as of Nov. 1, 2021, to 1,045 this year.
Fatal crashes reached 950 last Tuesday compared to a total of 1,210 in 2021, the Illinois Department of Transportation reported.
Yet those numbers don't paint the full picture.
"Drivers, based on commuting along I-90 to and from the Rockford area every day, have never been more aggressive, driven faster or have been more ignorant of signage coming into or operating in work zones," veteran traffic analyst Kris Habermehl noted. "I would ascribe the lower fatality count more to crashworthy vehicle design and improvements in passive restraint systems."
In other words: "Survivability quietly rises in spite of careless or distracted drivers getting into wrecks."
Across Illinois, overall vehicle crashes increased by 19%, or from 248,261 in 2020 to 295,912 in 2021, reflecting more people returning to work during the pandemic.
Kane County has had a grim few weeks.
"We really need people to pay attention and reduce their speeds," Undersheriff Pat Gengler urged. "These are two of the biggest reasons crashes can result in fatalities. The higher the speed, the more intense the damage to the car, and the likelihood that safety features are not going to be able to prevent the serious or fatal injuries."
In the metro area, Cook, DuPage and Will counties show downward trends for traffic fatalities as of Nov. 1, according to IDOT.
But Lake and McHenry counties have surpassed traffic deaths from 2021. Lake recorded 43 fatalities as of Nov. 1 in contrast with 37 people last year.
So far, Kane County casualties appear level. Data shows 34 fatalities, or 3.4 a month, as of Nov. 1. In 2021, 42 people died in Kane crashes, or 3.5 a month.
In McHenry County, 23 individuals had died in crashes as of last week, compared to 20 for the entirety of 2021.
"Higher speeds mixed with any sort of distraction is a recipe for a tragic incident," Gengler said. "These are two areas the personal responsibility comes into play. People choose to speed and not pay attention. Drivers can choose to operate the vehicles safely and, by doing so, play a part in reducing crashes all together."
There is reason for some optimism, said Habermehl, CBS 2 Chicago traffic and airborne spot news reporter.
"More people that should have been more grievously injured are surviving due to air bags and other restraints. Not to mention that we are finally seeing even older used vehicles having side curtains and knee and side bolsters as the really elderly 'last generation' vehicles hit the scrap pile and are not resold."
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