With a significant rise in traffic fatalities this year, state and local law enforcement and emergency personnel are warning drivers to use extra caution ahead of the holidays.
The city has seen 27 traffic fatalities this year, Chattanooga police Chief David Roddy said Wednesday. Last year by this time, there had been 18. That is a 33 percent increase.
"That's 27 families that, over the course of this year, a husband or a wife, a mother, a father, a son or a daughter, did not come home," Roddy said. "... It wasn't that they just didn't come home that night, those individuals did not come home for this holiday, and they won't come home for any of them."
Across the state, traffic fatalities are also up. As of Dec. 5, there have been 966 traffic fatalities compared to 2017's 957 for the same time, according to data from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security. That's as high as the total for each year from 2013 to 2015. (Both 2016 and 2017 saw 1,037 and 1,043 for the whole year, respectively.)
"We have had 12 fatalities in 13 days in our Chattanooga region," Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. John Harmon said.
Hamilton County alone has seen 16 more fatalities this year. It's the county with the highest increase in the Chattanooga district — which encompasses 12 surrounding counties — and the second-highest increase statewide. Shelby County has seen the highest increase with 39 more fatalities this year.
In Chattanooga, eight of the 27 people killed were riding a motorcycle, Roddy said. That's almost as many as the previous two years combined, with only four in 2017 and five in 2016.
Pedestrian fatalities are also up. There have been seven pedestrians killed this year in the city. That is more than the total for almost each of the past five years. With the exception of 2015, which saw eight pedestrian deaths, 2013-2017 saw an average of three deaths.
"Let that sink in," Roddy said. " ... These are not just numbers. Each one of these is a family member and a loved one that was taken from their families and the individuals that cared about them."
There isn't a common thread among these crashes, Roddy said, but they're mostly caused by excessive speed, distracted driving or driving impaired.
"Slow down, wear your seat belt and put down the phone," Roddy said. "Please keep that in mind now and throughout the year."
Hamilton County YTD
Motorcyclist fatalities (Chattanooga)
2016: 5 (total)
2017: 4 (total)
2018 YTD: 8
Pedestrian fatalities (Chattanooga)
2016: 2 (total)
2017: 2 (total)
2018 YTD: 7
People who do make it to the hospital usually die of head injuries, said Dr. Robert Maxwell, a trauma surgeon at Erlanger hospital.
"The primary reason that they die from head injuries is for not wearing their seat belt, and their head hitting the windshield or some other unforgiving object during the time of impact," he said. "So, please ... buckle up. Save a life. It may be your own."
The warning comes amid one of the highest holiday travel projections.
More than 54 million Americans — the most since 2005 — were expected to travel 50 miles or more for Thanksgiving. That's 2.5 million more people across the country hitting the roads, skies, rails and waterways this year than last year.
In Tennessee, 1.2 million people — a 5.1 percent increase — were expected to travel for the holiday.
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