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Why are traffic fatalities rising here?

Wednesday, Dec 21, 2016

* Gatehouse

State police said the headcount in its division of operations, the primary division responsible for traffic enforcement, has dropped from 1,849 in 2009 to 1,462 today because of retirements and attrition.

“No layoffs have occurred,” the ISP said in a statement. “The ISP is working within the budgetary environment by continuously exploring efficiencies, redistributing resources and staffing to meet public safety needs, particularly in high fatality zones.” […]

According to numbers provided to GateHouse Media Illinois, the number of traffic fatalities statewide has risen from 924 in 2014 to 998 in 2015 to 1,029 for this year through Friday.

While that number is up the past two years, it is still significantly lower than 15 years ago. In 2001, there were 1,414 fatalities, and in the 1970s, the number of fatal crashes each year was in the 2,000 range.

The ISP says the increasing the speed limit to 70 mph didn’t have a significant impact. The law took effect in January of 2014, but deaths were already on the rise. From a January 1, 2014 story

As of New Year’s Eve [2013], there were 973 crash fatalities in 2013 compared with 956 fatalities in 2012, a nearly 2 percent increase. That uptick adds to a 4 percent rise last year, when the death toll of 956 compared with 918 in 2011.

But deaths on Illinois roadways are still much lower than they have been historically, with 2013 the fifth consecutive year that fatalities were below 1,000, a dramatic low compared with the past nine decades.

Nationally, deaths didn’t really jump until 2015. More on that here.

Texting, low gas prices, etc. are likely factors. But a 20 percent drop in patrolling officers over 7 years can’t be ignored. Also, check out the reduction in tickets issued

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:40 pm:

    Problem isn’t speeding or a policing problem. It’s texting and driving.

    Until we get more standard features such as Tesla autopilot, or autonomous features such as cars that brake by themselves and cars that stay in their lanes which are slowly becoming more common, I don’t see this statistic going down.

  2. - trainin - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:41 pm:

    If you want services, you have to pay for them. You cut budgets, you cut services. Policing is a service.

  3. - Ggeo - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:41 pm:

    “Why are traffic fatalities rising here?”

    Because everyone is high-tailing it out of town? Hi-o!

  4. - milkman - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:44 pm:

    It’s a funny thing. The government requires manufacturers to build cars and trucks that continue to get better mileage and part of the way they do that is they make cars lighter which makes them less safe. Then they’re surprised when there’s more deaths. Really???

  5. - illinois manufacturer - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:44 pm:

    I was in a nasty one yesterday and i misread a flashing yellow .

  6. - illinois manufacturer - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:45 pm:

    The cars are safe airbags and seatbelts I am a big fan

  7. - DGD - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:49 pm:

    Agreed Milkman, there’s only so much airbags can do when a tiny car is folded in half.

    Queue the “no one needs a big SUV” meme in 3…2…1…

  8. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:50 pm:

    So I looked up the State Police on and there has been a 7% drop since Rauner took office.

    That’s 7% down from the smallest state workforce per capita in the U.S.
    So let’s take the arm bone off the skeleton crew we had.

    This is what collapse looks like.

  9. - Michelle Flaherty - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:51 pm:

    Because Madigan.

    (You asked the question.)
    Why are traffic fatalities rising here?

  10. - FIREDup! - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:51 pm:

    It’s not just ISP. IDOT, Tollway and the Feds are also invested in keeping fatalities down. Under the former administration, fatalities were at an all-time…just 3 short year ago. Hmmmmmmm….

  11. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:51 pm:

    I’m not going to argue with the 20% drop in policing numbers, but I travel a lot for work/politics, family visits, stuff with my kids, etc., and I still see quite a bit of speed traps and safety patrols/checks. I didn’t pay as much attention to that stuff before I had kids but it seems like the emphasis on ticketing hasn’t necessarily slowed as much as has been perceived.

  12. - Chicago Cynic - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:51 pm:

    I don’t think this chart supports the theory that fewer speeding tickets = more fatalities since the biggest drops in speeding tickets were some of our lowest fatality years.

  13. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:53 pm:

    Troopers have other employment options. Just wait till their health insurance doubles.

  14. - I can't drive 55 - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 2:54 pm:

    If people actually drove 70-80mph,.. sorry to paste a link but this illustrates my point. Look at these speeds

  15. - Team Sleep - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:01 pm:

    Honeybear - they also have pretty darned good pensions. Which are guaranteed. Also, this year alone over 1,000 troopers and employees with the ISP will have made over $100,000. That number comes directly from the Comptroller’s daily ledger site, BTW, so the info is legit. That is pretty good considering how poorly the state is doing financially. I know troopers have a hard job but acting as though they are somehow being put upon is a bit silly.

  16. - RNUG - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:02 pm:

    Think there is more than one factor.

    1) I’ve noticed that the smaller cars seem to speed more than the bigger ones. There seems to be a mentality that if people are driving a more fuel efficient car, they can speed and are still saving gas over what their old junker would have used.

    2) As noted by -milkman-, a lot of the cars are lighter. Now that doesn’t necessarily translate to more fatalities with the newer safety features (multiple air bags, better crush zones, etc.) but it is a fact that the lighter vehicle in a wreck tends to get the most damage.

    3) Distracted driving, which includes texting.

    4) Older cars on the road due to economic reasons; not all of us are fortunate enough to have new cars with tons of air bags, etc. People are driving cars that are much older than you might think. Or if you have an old car with an air bag, maybe it was part of the recalled air bags that may or may not work when you need them? It’s a fact that the major life saving advances the last 30 years were improved crumple zones (car destroys itself to protect you) and multiple air bags.

    5) But air bags won’t necessarily save you if you aren’t wearing your seat belt. Most of the fatalities I’ve seen reported in the paper are from accidents where the fatality was thrown from the vehicle. For whatever reason, it seems seat belt compliance is down some. On this item, you might be able to blame reduced police presence.

    And I can personally speak to some of this; years ago I rolled Mrs RNUG’s VW Cabriolet multiple times (she wasn’t happy). Yes, it had a roll bar, which is unusual for a lot of convertibles but VW was an early leader on safety features. I was wearing a three point seat belt and walked away without a scratch … but the air bags did not deploy. The crumple zones took some of the crash; the roll bar took the rest. Bottom line, I stayed in the car and it protected me.

  17. - Reality Check - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:02 pm:

    @Honeybear their health insurance isn’t in line to double at this point, because in an important but strangely unreported recent development, an independent arbitrator rejected Rauner’s demands on health care and sided with the troopers instead.

  18. - Anon - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:03 pm:

    I got pulled over one morning under the auspices of it raining and my lights not being on during a rain storm. They’re on an automatic sensor and I wasn’t running my wipers.

    Anyhow — after my license, registration, and insurance was all fine the State Police officer pitched me on applying for a position with them and said that a job would be posted shortly. It’s been about 10 months and I’ve still not seen that posting.

    What a fun state to live in.

  19. - Jc19pd2 - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:03 pm:

    This theory of mine does not explain many of the deaths, but I recall rumblings when Chicago was charged with fudging their murder numbers. The idea that if someone who shot on the highway, it would have been classified as a roadway death and not another murder in the city. Chicago Magazine?

  20. - Been There - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:08 pm:

    I’m not so sure if the speeding ticket decline has much to do with fatalities. I like to drive around 75 and always breaker when I saw a cop when it was 65. Now that it’s 70 I don’t even bother.
    I wonder more if dui arrests have gone down. I would think there is a lot more correlation there.

  21. - Texas Red - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:08 pm:

    CAFE standards have pushed the weight of cars lower and lower and as result more likely to sustain more damage in accidents.

  22. - lake county democrat - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:17 pm:

    I’d put distracted driving #1 - as the cost of phone and phone plans plummet, and a bigger percentage of the driving population “grew up” with texting/smart phones/etc., and that any cell phone driving has been shown to impair driving as much as being intoxicated (hands-free devices or not), that makes the most sense to me. Last couple of years gas prices have gone down and, I think, big car purchases have gone up (maybe not enough time to be reflected in the statistics though).

  23. - CLJ - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:17 pm:

    I believe that there needs to be better speed and traffic enforcement technology implemented on all roads and highways. I know, I know, red light cameras, speed cameras, city of Chicago money grab, blah, blah, blah. Of all the red light camera complaints I’ve reviewed with constituents, there was never one that had a justifiable case that they did not indeed run the red light. Of course, now I’m conditioned to stop on yellow in my new state which infuriates all the people behind me that know that I have way more time than I think. But the technology exists to automate traffic enforcement. Retailers have been using it for years to study shopping habits. My next suggestion is even worse in that driving is not a right but a privilege. If drivers that cannot focus on driving, that means put down the phone, get ready at home, no books allowed, and if you drink have someone else drive; then they should not be allowed the privilege of a driver’s license, own or operate a vehicle, etc. Banned from the road. Of course, that’s just about as UnAmerican as it gets.

  24. - iwillquoteyouonthis - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:20 pm:

    This is obviously conjecture on my part, but I think traffic stops do have an effect on fatalities. One thing a traffic stop can do is discover a drunk or otherwise impaired driver. Seeing cars pulled over creates a chilling effect in aggressive driving. Laws are important, but you get the compliance you enforce.

  25. - northsideNoMore - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:46 pm:

    Congested roads and bad drivers….The insurance companied=s thank you ….Question is are you more likely to get aced in a car wreck or wacked on the streets of chicago. Actuarial scientists please chime in.

  26. - ArchPundit - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:47 pm:

    ===CAFE standards have pushed the weight of cars lower and lower and as result more likely to sustain more damage in accidents.

    If lighter cars were the primary reason we would see an increasing rate for the last 50 years. We don’t. Lighter cars can be more dangerous in crashes, but other factors have had a much bigger role including distracted driving, speed limits, and probably traffic stops.

  27. - ArchPundit - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:50 pm:

    ===Question is are you more likely to get aced in a car wreck or wacked on the streets of chicago.

    Are you involved in the drug trade, a young black male in Chicago, or both? If not, then car accidents are far more likely to kill you.

  28. - Honeybear - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:53 pm:

    Reality check you are totally right. My bad. I think I even reported on that.

  29. - Anon - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 4:04 pm:

    If endorcement doesn’t really doesn’t work, as some commenters suggest, then why do it at all? But research shows that consistent, high-profile enforcement changes driving behavior.

  30. - MSIX - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 4:07 pm:

    = But air bags won’t necessarily save you if you aren’t wearing your seat belt. Most of the fatalities I’ve seen reported in the paper are from accidents where the fatality was thrown from the vehicle.=

    Agreed. It seems whenever I read about a fatal accident, lack of seat belts is a factor. I’ve also noticed more bozos driving at or after dusk with no headlights on.

  31. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 4:19 pm:

    I rarely see a cop on 2 of my regular interstate routes unless there’s an incident. I go 5-10 over the limit when the weather’s good depending on density of traffic around me, and have not gotten a ticket on the interstate since early 2010.

    To the increase in fatalities, I think there’s been a slight uptick in the economy since 2010 in NE IL, which translates to a few more cars on the road, which I empirically agree with from my observations. I also don’t think the lighter cars have much to do with it…everything from more safety features and better trauma centers/EMT responses led to being under 1,000 fatals a year, which some thought they’d never see in IL. All the while with cars getting lighter and lighter, and the differential between semi trucks and subcompacts getting greater. Texting/distraction is the new DUI, and I think the recent increases bear it out. Less patrols, yes, but they are mostly on the interstates and expressways which are statistically safer than the 2 lane roads downstate, so I am not sure that it’s a biggie. I don’t see an uptick in DUI’s, the law and society have put a big bite into that one, and it seems to still be holding. It’s not one thing, but the accumulation of a few little things.

  32. - ISP Retired - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 4:23 pm:

    At one time ISP had 2,300 sworn, I think it was around 1990.

  33. - sal-says - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 4:24 pm:

    Why? Dunknow. But Starve the Beast probably means fewer cops and therefore fewer cops on the road; less patrols; less immersion areas & stops. Member when the ISP put a bunch of cars out to clock & stop? Been goin’ on for a LONG time now.

    Thanks, #FailedGovernor. #ThanksNoILBudget.

  34. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 4:39 pm:

    == - Anon - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 3:03 pm:

    I got pulled over one morning under the auspices of it raining and my lights not being on during a rain storm. They’re on an automatic sensor and I wasn’t running my wipers. Anyhow — after my license, registration, and insurance was all fine the State Police officer pitched me on applying for a position with them and said that a job would be posted shortly. It’s been about 10 months and I’ve still not seen that posting. ==

    What? The wiper in rain has been a law for over a decade. Never heard from the State for a job? From your prost, probably a good thing.

  35. - enoughalready - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 4:43 pm:

    Team Sleep,
    Talk to some Troopers. $100K might be a lot but they are working 60-70 hours a week minimum due to mandatory coverage and “OT”…plus they can’t simply leave an accident site because their shift is over…they stay until the situation is resolved. They are leaving in droves despite the guaranteed pension.

  36. - Speed Racer - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 4:51 pm:

    Not sure it’s so simple as higher speed limit equals more accidents.

    Accidents/fatalities per vehicle mile traveled is critical–that’s how the pros figure out whether things are getting better or worse. Also, not sure whether these fatalities are on freeways or city roads. Story says statewide, so have to assume the stats are for all roads. It’s way easier to get away with texting and driving on long freeway straightaways than it is on city streets where there are lots of intersections, pedestrians, bicyclists, etc.

    Without stats on accidents/fatalities per vehicle mile traveled on highways, you could argue that plummeting numbers of speeding tickets written by ISP haven’t made highways any less safe. Would be interesting to know for sure.

  37. - Freezeup - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 5:39 pm:

    The decline in speeding tickets in the time period is a result of an emphasis on seat belt enforcement and to a lesser degree distracted driving offenses.

    This emphasis resulted in troopers being Directed by supervisors to patrol in areas where it is easy to write seat belt tickets. These areas are usually city streets with low speed limits.

    As patrol troopers numbers declined through attrition and reassignment, the managers tried to increase seat belt citation numbers or keep them the same at the direction of Springfield. This led to even more patrolling of city streets with low speed limits.

    Interstates and highways became less patrolled in this quest for seat belt tickets. City streets, that had their own city police departments became the place to patrol so supervisors could show seat belt numbers.

    Meanwhile, back on the highways, speeds increased. Drivers texted and drove. Truck drivers texted and watched movies on their smart phones while driving at highway speed. and there were no troopers there because they were all in town looking for seat belt tickets when statewide, seatbelt compliance was around 95%.

    There is now a whole generation of new troopers who don’t know how to patrol high speed roads or roads outside of town that don’t have street lights.

    This situation can and will be remedied. A very big piece of the puzzle is to get troopers out of town and onto the highways here they belong. The second part of the puzzle is head count. Head count is critically low, just as it is with every state agency. ISP has always prided itself with doing quality work but there does come a point where quality ends up being sacrificed.

  38. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 5:40 pm:

    Speed Racer,

    In IL, AVMT (average vehicle miles traveled) looks pretty flat, statewide, from 2002 til now. Varying from 108.91 billion in 2004 to 103.37 in 2011, last year was 105.37. 2016 won’t be out till sometime early next year.

  39. - Freezeup - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 5:46 pm:

    Just to be clear, city streets with low speed limits are not where fatal crashes happen statistically. They happen where people are driving highway speeds.

    Also a poster suggested expressway murders might be counted as fatal crashes. They are not.

  40. - Six Degrees of Separation - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 5:48 pm:

    In 1950 we drove 27.19 billion vehicle miles and had 1,973 fatal crashes. In 2015, 105.37 billion vehicle miles and 998 fatal crashes. This is like a seven-fold drop in deaths per passenger mile.

  41. - Merica - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 10:24 pm:

    The number one cause of traffic fatalities (on the highway), both directly and indirectly are truck drivers. I have seen so many aggressive truck drivers on I-55. Drivers who veer into the passing lane to block passenger traffic, drivers who you can see are distracted and on their phones while driving, and from news accounts, you hear about a lot of truck drivers who fall asleep at the wheel.

  42. - RNUG - Wednesday, Dec 21, 16 @ 10:41 pm:

    == … you hear about a lot of truck drivers who fall asleep at the wheel. ==

    There is a reason the semi driver’s log books are called :swindle sheets”.

  43. - Anon221 - Thursday, Dec 22, 16 @ 8:40 am:

    Some basic civility on the road would go a long way to preventing crashes- fatal and otherwise. Use your turn signal BEFORE changing lanes. Don’t use the on and off ramps like they are a Grand Prix course. Drive the limit- ESPECIALLY in work zones. And, when there are SIGNS alerting you about work zones… People , those aren’t suggestions. I’ve seen way too much of that in the last few years. Slow down, get over, and be patient.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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