FRANKFORT, Ky. -- Highway fatalities in Kentucky increased last year according to numbers released Friday by the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety (KOHS) and Kentucky State Police (KSP).
There were 834 fatalities in 2016, 73 more than 2015.
“We are greatly concerned with the number of people who lost their lives on our roadways,” said KOHS Executive Director Noelle Hunter. “These figures are unacceptable to us and they should be unacceptable to every driver – every person -- in our state. We all have to be much more vigilant about personal safety and personal responsibility behind the wheel if we are going to reverse this trend.”
Of the 834 highway fatalities last year in Kentucky, 50.9 percent were not wearing a seat belt and 16.8 percent involved alcohol. More than 36 percent involved speeding or aggressive drivers and 23 percent involved driver distraction. Motorcyclists accounted for 90 fatalities, with 60 percent not wearing helmets.
“With growing social acceptance of dangerous driving behaviors, such as texting while driving, speeding, driving impaired and not wearing a seat belt, we face a great challenge,” Hunter said.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 90 percent of crashes are due to human error.
“Driving is not a right,” said KSP Trooper Josh Brashears. “It is a privilege that may be taken away if responsible choices are not made behind the wheel.”
Brashears emphasized law enforcement’s role in saving lives.
“Traffic laws are in place for a reason, and we will cite anyone we see violating the law,” Brashears said. “We would much rather write a ticket than make a death notification.”
The highway fatality increase is not an issue solely for Kentucky. According to the National Safety Council, preliminary estimates indicate motor vehicle deaths totaled 40,200 last year, up 6 percent from 2015 and the first time fatalities exceeded 40,000 since 2007.
“While national fatality rates are similar to ours, this is not a case in which we should follow the national trend,” Hunter said. “We have to buckle up, put the cell phones down and drive like our lives depend on it – because they do.”
Statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicate that seat belts, when worn correctly, reduce the risk of fatalities by 45 percent for front-seat vehicle occupants and by 60 percent for pickup truck, SUV and minivan occupants. Also according to NHTSA, regular seat belt use is the single most effective way to protect against and reduce fatalities in motor vehicle crashes.
So far in 2017, preliminary numbers indicate there have been 210 roadway fatalities – down from 226 compared to the same time last year.