Public Safety

Iowa traffic fatalities for year stand at 303

State's fatal crashes split 50-50 between urban, rural

An Iowa Department of Transportation sign shows the number of traffic deaths in December 2015 as traffic travels south o
An Iowa Department of Transportation sign shows the number of traffic deaths in December 2015 as traffic travels south of downtown Cedar Rapids on Interstate 380. The year ended up with 306 traffic deaths, with this year’s total at 303 as of Friday. The top cause of fatal crashes last year, according to the IDO, was speeding or aggressive driving. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Iowa could see a slight decrease in the number of traffic deaths this year, compared to late year, depending on how the final 10 days go.

As of Friday, 303 people had died in traffic crashes in Iowa in 2018, according to the Iowa Department of Transportation. That’s 23 fewer than the total for 2017.

The DOT updates the number of traffic fatalities in the state daily at 2018 Iowa Traffic Fatality Count.

Last year’s 326 fatalities was significantly down from the 388 who died in 2016 — the highest total in five years.

One caveat: When looking at the daily fatality count, it’s important to note the numbers are preliminary, said Jan Laaser-Webb of the DOT Office of Traffic and Safety.

“The number as of the morning of December (21) is not always indicative of where the year ends up,” she said in an email. “Our roadways saw only six fatalities in the last two weeks of 2014 and only four fatalities in the last two weeks of 2017, whereas there were 15 fatalities in the last two weeks of 2015 and 16 fatalities in the last two weeks of 2016.”

The website also notes the total can change considerably when complex crash investigations delay reporting of fatalities.

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Moreover, a fatality is considered a crash-related death if the death occurs within 30 days of the crash, which means the final 2018 numbers might not be available until the end of January.

SINGLE VEHICLES

Of this year’s 303 traffic deaths, nearly half were single-vehicle wrecks, “which are likely roadway departures, Laaser-Webb said,

The preliminary crash data, though, “is not solid enough” to identify any leading causes for the wrecks or deaths, she added.

Additionally, the data shows that slightly more than half of those killed in traffic crashes — 53 percent — were wearing a seat belt, while about 33 percent were not.

In the remainder, seat belt use was unknown or not relevant, indicating those who died could have been pedestrians or riding bicycles or motorcycles.

SUMMER HIGHEST

The worst months for crash fatalities this year were the summer months: June, 38 deaths; July, 33; and August, 31.

“We see more fatal crashes occur in the spring and summer when the volume of travelers is highest,” Laaser-Webb said. “There is also a wider variety of drivers on the roadway in the summer months.”

While it is typically believed that larger cities and metropolitan counties, where the population is denser, would typically see a higher concentration of fatal or serious wrecks, that is not the case in Iowa, Laaser-Webb said.

Instead, she said, “the split between rural and urban is generally close to 50/50.”

2016 OUTLIER

Though Iowa could see a slight decline in traffic deaths this year, Laaser-Webb said she would be careful not to call the number low since “it is in line with four of the previous five years.”

“Folks in the statistics field would say 2016 (388 deaths) was an outlier year,” she added.

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Moreover, Laaser-Webb said the Office of Traffic and Safety sees one traffic death as too many, which is why the DOT launched its Zero Fatalities campaign, which aims to reduce fatal crashes.

“We absolutely see the people behind the numbers and very much want to keep roadways as safe as possible,” Laaser-Webb said. “We work in partnership with enforcement agencies, counties and cities, and other traffic safety stakeholders to reduce serious crashes, (and) we’re working every day with the idea in mind that we strive for Zero Fatalities on the roads of Iowa.

“We want everyone to get home, to work, to school, to festivities every day.”

One sobering statistic from the DOT: 94 percent of fatal crash are caused by human error.

The best advice for drivers, the experts say, is straightforward. Slow down. Drive sober. Focus on the road. Stay alert. Buckle up.

IOWA TRAFFIC Fatalities

l 2018 (to date): 303

l 2017: 326

l 2016: 388

l 2015: 306

l 2014: 316

l 2013: 308

TOP CAUSES OF FATAL CRASHES (2017)

1. Speeding or aggressive driving

2. Impaired driving

3. Not wearing a seat belt

4. Distracted driving

5. Drowsy driving

Source: Iowa DOT Zero Fatalities website

l Comments: (319) 398-8238; kat.russell@thegazette.com

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