Traffic deaths are preventable

Don’t drink and drive, buckle up, and leave cellphone alone.

If you’re going to drive, please do so safely. According to the Kansas Department of Transportation, 307 people had been killed on Kansas roads this year as of last week—a 16 percent increase over the number killed by that time a year ago. Last year, 355 people were killed on Kansas roads, the second-lowest number of traffic fatalities ever recorded. That was a reduction of nearly 8 percent from 2014, when 385 people were killed.

And those are preventable deaths.

State officials reported at a news conference last week that about half of all traffic fatalities in Kansas involve people who were not wearing seat belts. About a third involve people who were driving while distracted—such as using a cellphone. About a third involve people driving while drunk or otherwise impaired.

Chris Bortz, traffic safety manager for KDOT, said traffic fatalities also are up nationally.

Nationwide, 35,092 people were killed in crashes during 2015 which was an increase of 7.2 percent from 2014, the largest percent increase in nearly 50 years.

Nationally, fatalities related to distracted driving increased by 8.8 percent in 2015 over 2014, according to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration; deaths of unrestrained passengers by 4.9 percent; deaths in crashes related to alcohol-impaired driving by 3.2 percent and speeding-related fatalities by 3 percent.

Over the past decade, there has been a general decline in traffic fatalities, with a slight increase in 2012. Ten years ago, there were 42,708 people killed in traffic crashes. Safety programs such as those that have resulted in increased seat belt use and reduced impaired driving have worked to substantially lower the number of traffic fatalities over the years, according to the NHTSA report. Vehicle improvements including technologies such as air bags and electronic stability control also have contributed greatly to reducing traffic deaths.

But the large increase in the number of traffic deaths nationally in 2015—despite the reduction in Kansas—set us back.

And the 16 percent increase in the number of traffic deaths in Kansas so far this year is a tragedy.

The good thing is we can do something about it.

Please, don’t drive when you’re impaired.

Buckle up, and make sure your adult passengers and any children in your vehicle are properly restrained. And leave your cell phone alone while you’re behind the wheel.

If you’re going to get behind the wheel, you owe it to yourself, your passengers and everyone else on the road to take steps to be as safe as possible. Reducing traffic fatalities is everyone’s responsibility.

Salina Journal Editorial: Monday, October 17, 2016