Illinois is bucking a national trend by reporting a slight increase in fatalities in traffic crashes

ILLINOIS (IRN) — Illinois officials are working to reverse a recent increase in fatal traffic crashes.
Nearly 1,100 people died on state roads last year, the eighth-highest total in the country. Guy Tridgell, with the Illinois Department of Transportation, is concerned about the 2 percent increase in fatalities.
“One fatality is one too many,” Tridgell said. “That’s been our mantra for a long time and it still applies. We’ve undergone several different efforts this year to drive those numbers down.”
The increase in Illinois comes at a time when national traffic fatalities are declining. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 37,133 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes on U.S. roadways in 2017, down about 2 percent from the year before.
Roadway fatalities in Illinois are at their highest level in more than a decade, and that has officials ramping up highway safety efforts. The “Life or Death Illinois” campaign was rolled out earlier this year, and drivers continue to see messages on electronic roadway signs.
“We’re also convening a safety summit in Springfield [this week] with several state agencies to start looking at this problem in a more holistic way,” Tridgell said. “We’ll get some other ideas from other state agencies to get that number down to where it should be, which is zero.”
Tridgell said distracted driving and texting while behind the wheel continue to be problems on Illinois roads.
“The challenge for us and for law enforcement is that’s often the hardest behavior to enforce,” Tridgell said. “What we’ve really been focusing on is letting drivers know the decisions they make behind the wheel ultimately impact these numbers. It’s everybody’s responsibility to be safe on Illinois roads.”
Officials said mild winter weather contributes to the increase, as that leads to more drivers, more crashes, and more fatalities. The economic recovery also could play a role.
“In general terms, when you have an economy that’s doing well and gas prices are lower, you tend to see an increase in crashes and fatalities, just because more people are driving,” Tridgell said.
Tridgell is optimistic about efforts to push the fatality totals lower, and said the state has seen about 50 fewer fatalities year-to-date this year when compared to 2017.
“The vast majority of these accidents are avoidable,” Tridgell said. “They’re the result of making wrong decisions behind the wheel.”