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Rowan traffic accidents continue to decline

Seth Leonard
sleonard@salisburypost.com
The number of traffic collisions in Rowan County dropped for the third straight year in 2009, the N.C. Highway Patrol reports. Fatalities are also down.
Rowan County had 2,213 collisions in 2007, the year the state launched an initiative called the Top Five Road program. By 2008, the number had dropped by about 7 percent to 2,040. Collisions are down again this year, with 1,894 recorded so far.
Of those crashes, 17 resulted in fatalities, five fewer than in 2007.
Having 154 fewer collisions in 2009 than 2008 indicates to some that local efforts to foster safe driving are taking hold.
“We do look at our program as being successful,” said Highway Patrol Sgt. B.E. Hower. “The recent ice event means we’ve seen a lot more collisions than we may have had if we hadn’t had ice.”
Hower also said people have driven fewer miles on average because of the tight economy. That results in fewer opportunities for accidents, which may have helped this year’s numbers.
State troopers are in the midst of several programs aimed at reducing crashes and fatalities, including the Top Five Road initiative.
Under the program, troopers identify the five most dangerous roads in separate areas of the county. Officers who live in and around each area take turns patrolling that road.
The assigned unit will spend up to an entire day in that particular area to observe and deter people from unsafe driving.
“Troopers work these roads with a passion because they drive and live in these areas,” said Hower.
Rowan County accounts for about 1 percent of fatal crashes in the state, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.
National crash rates are on a downward trend after peaking for much of the last 10 years.
N.C. Highway Patrol Sgt. J.M. Ward from the Davidson County department said that similar Top Five policies are in place in his area.
Ward pointed to N.C. 150 as one of the worst roads in their jurisdiction. Drivers use the road as an alternative to the interstate when traveling between Davidson, Rowan and Forsyth counties.
“It’s too heavily traveled, in my opinion,” Ward said. “It can’t handle the volume; it’s just more cars than the road can accommodate.”
He indicated that, in some circumstances, it might be safer to travel on the interstate, although higher speeds can mean more danger.
Despite similar efforts to curb traffic accidents, Davidson County has not seen the consistent reduction that Rowan County has experienced over the past few years.
Part of this is because Davidson is the fourth largest Highway Patrol jurisdiction in the state. The involvement of alcohol in these incidents also appears to be on the rise, although a definite trend has yet to develop.
Despite these difficulties, Davidson authorities have stabilized crash rates at about 3,200 per year.
Although real efforts are being made to fight unsafe driving, there have still been several deaths this year, including a teen driver.
JoAnn Cross lost her son, Joseph Payette, 17, to an accident in August. Payette was a relatively new driver and lost control of his truck after coming in contact with a friend’s vehicle.
Cross realized after the accident that teenagers were at particular risk from unsafe driving. A law enforcement officer explained to her teenagers won’t develop the brain functions linked to understanding consequences until age 25.
Since then Cross has worked to spread awareness of defensive driving programs so that parents can make the right choice.
Of note is the B.R.A.K.E.S. program offered by Doug Herbert near Lowes Motor Speedway in Charlotte. An acronym for “Be Responsible And Keep Everyone Safe,” the program offers new drivers a chance to practice advanced maneuvers in a controlled environment.
Students can attempt things like high speed panic stops, accident avoidance and even get the chance to negotiate a driving slalom óall things that would be illegal in normal conditions.
Herbert started the program in 2009 after losing his two sons in an accident. The non-profit organization doesn’t charge a fee for the monthly classes.
Cross said that her son made some mistakes, but they could have been avoided.
“I think parents need to let their kids know that if they’re in a situation that they can’t get out of, that they will come pick them up, no matter what the situation is,” she said. “Kids need a safety net.”
On the Web:
www.putonthebrakes.org

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