By CHANTAL COOK
Capital News Service
LANSING – A new study shows that the state’s roads are getting safer.
Traffic deaths were at a record-low 871 in 2009, down 11 percent from 2008 when there were 980 deaths on the roads, according to the Office of Highway Safety Planning.
Anne Readett, communication manager for the agency, said police enforcement has played a big part in promoting safer roads, including drunken driving arrests.
She said that the state has had the highest rate of seat belt use in the country for the past two years.
According to the Michigan Traffic Crash Facts Data Query, Kent and Montcalm counties were among those with fewer crashes in 2009.
Montcalm reported fewer crashes, from 2,851 to 2,726. Alcohol-associated crashes went down from 95 to 93. Fatal crashes dropped by half to three, and injuries from 357 to 346.
Kent reported 17,815 traffic crashes in 2009, down from 19,780 in 2008. Crashes associated with drinking decreased from 815 to 773, fatal crashes went down slightly from 55 to 51 and injuries dropped from 3,570 to 3,376.
Tom Bruff, manager of the transportation program at the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, said due to the poor economy, high unemployment and high gas prices, fewer people are driving.
“Fewer people driving makes less cars and chances for people to get in crashes,” Bruff said.
Charles Compton, data area specialist at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute, said along with fewer people on the roads and increased seat belt use, cars are being built to reduce chances of fatalities and injuries.
“Cars will protect you better than a seat belt,” Compton said.
Bruff said drivers, especially young ones, are better educated about traffic safety.
The state’s graduated driver license program gives teens more extended education on driving and teaches students to avoid being distracted on the road, he said.
Bruff said distracted driving is a serious problem.
“Texting, applying make-up, eating and other factors are a problem and can cause harm while driving,” Bruff said.
He said he favors a texting ban and other steps the state can take to help people stay focused on the road.
“It’s not a right to drive, it’s a privilege,” Bruff said.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.