With 39 states including Iowa seeing increases in the number of people killed during 2016 on highways, a report released Tuesday by the National Governors Association provides advice for reducing traffic deaths and injuries.
Iowa saw a startling 402 traffic deaths in 2016, which has subsided to a more typical 332 by the end of 2017. This year, however, is off to a bad start following a wave of fatalities in Monday’s bad weather. So far this year, the Iowa Department of Transportation has tallied 34 traffic fatalities — five more deaths than reported by this time last year.
Tuesday’s report, “State Strategies to Reduce Highway and Traffic Fatalities: A Road Map for States,” includes several recommendations for states to reduce traffic casualties — including policies on speeding, distracted driving and impaired driving.
Last year, state lawmakers established programs in counties that sought them to require drivers arrested for or convicted of impaired driving to participate in twice-daily sobriety monitoring, as well as require some drivers to install ignition interlocks.
Lawmakers also made texting-while-driving a primary offense — meaning officers did not need to spot some other violation first to pull over a texting driver.
This legislative session, some of the traffic safety bills under consideration aim to increase penalties for impaired driving and for motorists using excessive speed in the event of a fatal crash.
Lawmakers also are considering competing bills on the use of automated traffic enforcement cameras — one that was imposes stricter regulations and another that bans them. A ban would cut against one of the report’s recommendations, which is to use the safety devices where allowed in high-risk areas.
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Patrick Hoye, bureau chief with the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, said increased enforcement for speeding and impaired driving have been top priorities.
“Speeding is always one of the highest contributors to fatalities — not only in the state of Iowa, but all across the country,” he said.
While failure to use a seat belt already is a primary offense in Iowa, Hoye said the bureau encourages enforcement.
“When you’re looking at 40 percent of our fatalities are unbuckled, that’s a red flag,” Hoye said. “If we can increase seat belt use, we’ll see fatalities come down in the state.”
According to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data, 37,461 people died in traffic crashes in 2016.
That marked a 5.6 percent increase from 2015, which already was a record year nationwide.
In addition, an estimated 4.6 million non-fatal injuries — severe enough to require consultation from a medical professional — occurred in 2016 crashes, according to data.
According to the report, increased travel, as well as growth in the use of motorcycles and bicycles, has created more chances for collisions.
And contributing is risky road behavior — including not wearing seat belts, being distracted while driving, speeding and driving while impaired.
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Here are some recommendations made in the report, and how they relate to traffic-related bills being discussed in the Iowa Statehouse:
Report: Develop policies that permit violators to be stopped and cited independently of any other traffic behavior.
In Iowa: Failure to use a seat belt is a primary offense but lack of use remains an issue. In 2017, a belt was not in use in about a third of the fatalities. Violators face fines of $50.
Report: Set appropriate speed limits and support targeted enforcement for offenses.
In Iowa: House File 2150, now in subcommittee, would make it a Class C felony when a driver unintentionally causes the death of another while driving 25 mph or more above the posted speed limit.
Report: Support law enforcement’s ability to effectively enforce laws when people engage in illegal driving.
In Iowa: House File 2023 would make it a Class C felony for anyone who unintentionally causes the serious injury of another person while driving intoxicated. The bill, introduced to committee in January, also would increase the penalty for an unintentional death caused by impaired driving from up to 25 years to up to 50 years. Another bill, House File 2120, would require anyone found guilty of driving drunk to install an ignition interlock. Iowa law now requires an ignition interlock only for drivers with a blood alcohol content above .10.
Report: Where authorized, use automated traffic enforcement, including speed and red light cameras.
In Iowa: While Senate File 220 would allow local governments to use traffic cameras to catch speeders and red-light runners, it’s competing with House Study Bill 512, which aims to ban the 79 cameras that have been installed in eight cities and one county.
The bills are heading to the House floor.