Nearly 1,120 people lost their loves on Tennessee roads and highways last year, according to preliminary data, representing a nearly 9 percent increase in a single year.
Knoxville personal injury attorneys urge every driver in the state to take note of the new traffic fatality statistics and to make a renewed commitment to safe driving as we work to bring the number of deaths down in 2013.
State officials are touting the fact that the number of deaths is the third-lowest dating back to 1963. But the fact that we saw such a sharp increase, despite the measures laid forth in the governor's 2012 Highway Safety Performance Plan, is troubling. As the commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security put it: We must do better.
The agency has reportedly invested millions of dollars in state and federal funds for anti-crash efforts in the last year. That included electronic messaging centers with signs warning drivers against engaging in some of the hazards known to be more common - texting behind the wheel, drinking and driving, drowsy driving, etc.
The state department of transportation wanted drivers to think about the risks. (The method is a bit counterintuitive, though, considering moves by local county commissioners to ban digital billboards due to the distraction they cause motorists.)
In any case, it doesn't seem efforts were successful. For example, the number of DUI arrests in the state shot up by more than 25 percent from 2011 to 2012. Early numbers indicate nearly 250 people died in alcohol-related crashes in the state. That's a 24 percent increase from the year before, though it is worth noting that impaired driving deaths fell by about 32 percent from 2007 to 2011 in the state.
Another major concern for traffic officials is lack of seat belt usage. People without a seat belt accounted for nearly 53 percent of those killed in motor vehicle accidents last year.
Other major contributing factors included speed (which was a factor in 141 fatal crashes) and distracted driving (a factor in 56 fatal crashes).
Sadly, the number of teens killed on Tennessee roads increased by more than 10 percent last year. Officials primarily blame distracted driving.
Also worthy of alarm is the fact that the number of motorcycle deaths in our state has tripled in the last 14 years -- up more than 21 percent just in the last year. There were 138 motorcyclists killed in Tennessee in 2012, compared to 114 the previous year.
These disturbing upward trends weren't just in Tennessee, either. The National Safety Council reported that throughout the country, traffic deaths climbed by 5 percent last year (not including December, for which final figures aren't yet available). Many nearby states also had marked increases, including: Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri, Virginia and Georgia.
Unfortunately, so far this year, we're on the exact same trajectory. Some 36 people died on Tennessee roads as of January 16. That was the exact same number as had been tallied at the same time last year.