published Monday, November 22nd, 2010

McMinn works to reduce high traffic death count

With 20 deaths this year on the roadways of McMinn County — seven in the last half of October — state and local officials are looking at ways to promote safety and reduce fatalities in the rural county.

McMinn County Sheriff Joe Guy said his department is working with the Governor’s Highway Safety Office and the Tennessee Highway Patrol to make county roads safer.

McMinn County traffic fatalities:

2005: 16

2006: 12

2007: 19

2008: 14

2009: 11

Source: Tennessee Department of Safety

“We’re working on more high-visibility patrols and a media campaign,” Guy said. “More law enforcement [officers] are going to be out on the highways.”

Interstate 75 — the main artery between Chattanooga and Knoxville — runs through the center of McMinn, and several other highways cut through the county in all directions, Guy said.

“We are in a corridor between two metropolitan areas,” Guy said. “There are long stretches of highways through rural areas that can be tempting to drivers to speed.”

In the counties that stretch between Chattanooga and Knoxville, McMinn County has the highest traffic fatality rate. Neighboring Bradley County followed with 16 deaths as of October, and Monroe County was third with 14 traffic deaths so far this year.

On Oct. 22, a Sweetwater family — two adults and two infants — died when their vehicle struck a tractor-trailer on state Highway 68.

The following weekend, two crashes on I-75 in McMinn claimed the lives of a woman and two men.

“There are three big things drivers need to be aware of,” Guy said, “They need to obey the speed limit, [use] seat belts and child restraints and not drive impaired.”

A safety program set for Dec. 16 at the Athens, Tenn., Walmart will feature a child-restraint checkpoint, said Clint Shrum, liaison with the Governor’s Highway Safety Office.

“We need to do what we can to get the word out,” Shrum said. “We plan to do an education campaign as well as step up enforcement. The amount of fatalities for a county this size is out of proportion.”

Shrum said McMinn recently was awarded a $5,000 grant to increase high-visibility enforcement. That money could be used to pay overtime for officers performing traffic duty.

He added that statistics are being collected to identify areas where patrols could be more effective.

One of the major factors in most fatalities is whether the driver and passengers are wearing seat belts, he said.

“It takes two seconds to click a seat belt,” Shrum said. “It could save your life.”

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