Fatal crashes down this year

As of Friday, fatal traffic crashes are slightly down from the same time last year, apparently reversing an upward trend.

There have been 103 fatal traffic accidents so far this year, down 14 from last year’s 117 on the same date. That’s according to data from the North Dakota Highway Patrol.

In total, there were 147 fatal crashes throughout 2012, accounting for 170 deaths. There have been 111 deaths from the 103 crashes since the beginning of 2013.

Fatal crashes rose from 95 incidents in 2007 to 97 in 2008 across the state, then jumped to 116 in 2009 before decreasing to 92 in 2010. There was a significant jump to 130 in 2011 and then the jump to 147 in 2012.

“It’s pretty much the highest of recent years, but data goes back to the ’70s,” said Sgt. Tom Iverson, a spokesman for the North Dakota Highway Patrol, of 2012. “It’s one of the highest we’ve had.”

The large discrepancy in total numbers between crashes for that whole year compared to 2013 statistics just up to Friday reveals that a larger number of crashes occur during the winter months.

“A lot can be attributed to slippery road conditions and overall adverse weather conditions that we have in North Dakota,” Iverson said.

Alcohol-related crashes are also slightly down, representing about 46 percent of all of the incidents, compared to about 59 percent last year. Iverson said that is nothing to get too excited about, though, since alcohol has historically contributed to about 50 percent of all fatal traffic incidents.

“We’re still not satisfied with it, but it beats going in the opposite direction,” he said.

Northwest counties keep the lead

It should come as little surprise that the 11 counties that make up the northwest quadrant of the state continue to lead in overall fatal numbers. With increased activity comes increased numbers.

“We’re lucky,” said Ward County Sheriff Steve Kukowski of his county’s fatality numbers. “Ours are down.”

Ward County had historically been a leader in serious traffic incidents in the district because of the higher population than surrounding areas, but the activity in McKenzie and Williams Counties, number one and two respectively in fatal crash numbers, have brought them up to, and beyond, Ward’s numbers.

“Ward County in the past was always kind of a leader in fatal and serious injury accidents,” said Sgt. Michael McCloud of the NDHP, who splits his patrolling rounds between the Minot and Williston offices, agreeing to that assessment. “Now probably the other counties are catching up to that.”

They certainly are. Of the 103 crashes this year, the district has made up nearly half at 50 incidents. The district makes up for just more than half the total deaths, though, at 58 of 113.

McKenzie led the northwest counties with 18 crashes and 20 fatalities, six alcohol-related. Next was Williams with 16 crashes and 19 fatalities, 10 alcohol-related. Third was Ward with 13 crashes and 14 fatalities, seven alcohol-related.

Finishing off the numbers, there was one crash and death in Bottineau County, the same for McHenry and one crash and three deaths in Mountrail County.

Stark County, which is an oil-active county, had the most in the 17-county Southwest district with six crashes and six deaths. That district was more even in terms of contributing counties, with only Burleigh, Dunn, Morton and Sioux counties also contributing more than one crash and death to the 27 crash and fatalities totals.

Much less represented was the Southeast District, with 17 crashes and 19 deaths, and the Northeast District, with nine crashes and deaths.

Detailed numbers

– Despite persistent commentary online and in local bars and restaurants, the vast majority of fatal crashes, at 68 percent, did not involve a commercial vehicle of any type. Of the remaining 32 percent of fatal crashes that did, that figure “should not be misconstrued” Iverson said, to assume that the commercial vehicles were at fault in each instance.

– Twenty-one people have died wearing a seatbelt compared to 59 who have died without. Fifteen more deaths have occurred in cases in which it is unknown whether a seatbelt was used and 18 more were in vehicles where seatbelts were not available. That’s 52 percent unbuckled so far this year compared to 56 percent throughout 2012.

– 36 crashes were rollovers, with 40 people dying in those. That compares to 52 rollovers causing 58 deaths in 2012. Eight people were ejected in rollovers this year, well down from 41 in 2012.

– There have been 16 head-on collisions compared to 17 in 2012.

– Of motorcycle crashes, four deaths occurred among riders wearing a helmet, compared to 10 deaths without a helmet.

-One person has died in a collision with a train, compared to three in 2012.

Winter coming

Both Iverson and McCloud offer the same advice for the dangerous winter months ahead: Plan accordingly and use good judgment.

“Now with the winter driving, hopefully, they’ll plan ahead to allow more time to get to their destinations,” McCloud said, adding that motorists should keep a kit containing needed items should they become stranded on the roads.

Also, Iverson said, motorists should consider staying in place if conditions are known to be very bad.

“We continue to have a strong law enforcement presence out on the road. We enforce our drinking and driving (laws). We offer numerous overtime programs to deal with underage drinking and drinking and driving in general. We have a number of troopers who do take advantage of these overtime programs,” Iverson said. “So these programs do pay off in the long run. Literature shows that a strong enforcement presence proves to be beneficial and proves to be a deterrent.”