Iowa highway deaths increase despite lower traffic volume

State sets goal of fewer than 300 fatalities in a year's time

Signs show the speed limit on Interstate 380 south of Cedar Rapids. The chief of the Iowa Department of Transportation t
Signs show the speed limit on Interstate 380 south of Cedar Rapids. The chief of the Iowa Department of Transportation told Iowa lawmakers Thursday his department has set a goal of reducing fatalities on Iowa roads, including those where speeding is a factor. (The Gazette)

DES MOINES — The Iowa Department of Transportation is setting an ambitious goal to reduce highway fatalities to a level not seen in nearly 100 years.

Concerned about the number of highway crashes and fatalities that have hovered around 340 per year, DOT Director Scott Marler told legislators Thursday the agency has set a goal of reducing deaths to fewer than 300 — a level not achieved since 1925.

The department is partnering with the Iowa State Patrol, Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau and local agencies to address factors Marler said contribute to the uptick in fatalities: lack of seat belt us, impaired driving, distracted driving and speed.

In 2020, he said, the troopers wrote more than 1,400 citations for speeds in excess of 100 mph. The DOT also reported 69 people died on Iowa roads last year in speed-related crashes.

Crashes have been trending up in recent years to a high of 58,292 in 2019, then dropped to about 47,000 in 2020.

“We expected that because traffic volumes were lower,” largely due to the coronavirus pandemic, Marler told the House Transportation Committee.

However, what is surprising is that despite lower traffic volume and fewer crashes, there were 336 fatalities, Marler said.


That number had been falling since 2016 when 402 people died on Iowa roads, but ticked upward in 2019 and 2020, Marler said.

He also outlined the DOT’s legislative proposals for the year. One bill Marler didn’t mention was House Study Bill 5 that would impose additional penalties on drivers who directly or indirectly cause the death of another while driving at least 25 mph over the posted speed limit. Depending on the speed, the driver could be charged with a Class C felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

That bill was greenlighted by the House Public Safety Committee on Thursday afternoon.

The DOT is registered as “undecided” on the bill.

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