published Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Traffic fatalities fall for 3rd straight year


by Jacqueline Koch
Audio clip

Kendall Poole

Chattanooga is on pace to record its fewest traffic fatalities in four years, although pedestrian fatalities in the city have increased during the last year.

As of Wednesday, 21 fatalities were recorded, down from 28 at this time last year, said Sgt. Al Tallant, who heads the Chattanooga Police Department's traffic division.

Nine of this year's fatalities were pedestrians, including an Unum employee who was killed Dec. 23 at Walnut and Fourth streets. Police have charged the 24-year-old driver with DUI, running a red light and fleeing the scene.

The year's pedestrian fatalities have been linked to both driver and pedestrian error.

"When you're driving down the road and you're doing everything legal and somebody steps out in front of you, you have that issue," Sgt. Tallant said. "When you're drunk or you're speeding or you're violating the law, then, of course, it's not the pedestrian's fault. We've had a few both ways on that, and it comes down to education."

Of Chattanooga's traffic fatalities this year, seven were speed-related and five were alcohol-related. The number of fatalities classified as alcohol-related could increase as more blood test results come back to the department, Sgt. Tallant said.

The number of traffic fatalities statewide also is down from last year and may fall below 1,000 for the first time since 1963, according to the Tennessee Department of Safety.

As of Tuesday, the state had 944 fatalities, compared with 1,039 last year at this time.

This is the third consecutive year the state has seen a decline in traffic fatalities.

"A three-year decrease like we've seen is phenomenal, and it far outstrips the progress that is made on the national level," said Kendall Poole, director of the Tennessee Governor's Highway Safety Office. "The challenge is to really keep the pressure on."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced in October that preliminary figures released for the first half of 2009 showed a record low. On U.S. roads, 16,626 people died in traffic crashes from January to June, 7 percent less than the 17,871 for the same six months in 2008, according to the NHTSA.

This year, the state Department of Public Safety began teen driver campaigns to educate young people about staying safe while driving and will implement an education program for senior citizens in 2010.

The department also would like seat belt usage -- down to 80.6 percent from 81.5 last year -- to increase.

"We just need to keep the pressure on," Mr. Poole said. "Because when we talk about statistics again, we talk about saving lives."

Chattanooga traffic fatalities

2006: 37

2007: 30

2008: 28

2009: 21 (year to date)

Source: Chattanooga Police Department

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