BY KEN LITTLE
Traffic fatalities are on the decline in Greene County and across the state, according to figures from the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security.
Fewer road deaths could be a result of both driver education and increased enforcement efforts, Greene County Sheriff Steve Burns said late last week.
The unofficial 2013 highway fatality total in Greene County is 15. That compares to 17 road deaths countywide in 2012 and 20 in 2011.
Statewide, preliminary figures announced Thursday by the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security show 988 traffic fatalities in 2013. That's a 2.7 percent decrease in vehicular deaths on Tennessee roadways last year compared to 2012, when there were 1,015 traffic fatalities.
The 2013 traffic fatality numbers include vehicular deaths reported by all Tennessee law enforcement agencies, departmental spokeswoman Dalya Qualls said.
Agencies such as the Tennessee Highway Patrol conducted saturation patrols, seat belt, sobriety and driver's license checkpoints, and bar/tavern checks during peak 2013 holiday periods such as the recent New Year's Eve holiday.
The Greene County Sheriff's Department and the Greeneville Police Department have also been proactive in enforcing traffic laws and keeping roads free of impaired drivers.
"All law enforcement agencies across the state have tried to increase patrols and work on these things," Burns said.
In Tennessee, the preliminary number of alcohol-related crashes shows a decrease of 3.7 percent in 2013, compared to the same time period last year.
As of Dec. 20, there were 2,072 crashes involving impaired drivers. That's 80 fewer than the 2,152 crashes during the same time frame in 2012.
Unofficial traffic fatality figures in 2013 for counties surrounding Greene include Cocke, 10; Hancock, 1; Hamblen, 12; Hawkins, 6; Sullivan, 28; Unicoi, 3; and Washington, 13.
The county with the most traffic fatalities in the state in 2013 is Shelby, with 98.
DRIVER EDUCATION EFFORTS
The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security has spearheaded driver education efforts across the state.
Education efforts include an initiative by the Tennessee Department of Transportation to display daily traffic fatality figures on overhead message boards across the state.
The figure was updated each weekday in 2013 and compared to the number of fatalities on the same date in 2012.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol took a strategic and data-driven approach in 2013 to DUI enforcement efforts that resulted in more than 5,000 arrests for driving under the influence through mid-October.
State troopers have also focused on issuing seatbelt citations in 2013.
MOVING 'IN RIGHT DIRECTION'
"The decline in the number of traffic fatalities in 2013 indicates that Tennessee is moving in the right direction," Commissioner Bill Gibbons of the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security said in a news release.
"Our focus on data-driven deployment of state troopers to have the maximum impact on DUI and seat belt enforcement is paying off. We have much more work to do, though," Gibbons said.
Impaired-driving fatalities fell 26.7 percent from 2010 to 2013 in Tennessee. In 2013, preliminary statistics indicate 211 people were killed in alcohol-related crashes across the state, or 24.1 percent of the total.
Tennessee state troopers increased their number of DUI arrests in 2013 to 6,428, a 90.4 percent increase over 2010.
State troopers also issued 74,277 seat belt and child-restraint-device citations in 2013, a 135.1 percent increase from the 31,599 citations issued in 2010.
Unrestrained motorists accounted for 48.9 percent, or 364, of vehicle occupants killed in 2013 in Tennessee, Qualls said..
Other contributing factors in fatal crashes included speed and distracted driving, with 184 and 167 deaths, respectively.
Pedestrian fatalities increased by 25 percent over the previous year, from 68 in 2012 to 85 in 2013.
"In 2014, we will employ a predictive analytics model (C.R.A.S.H.) to look even more closely at where traffic crashes are most likely to occur and deploy our resources, both in educational efforts and enforcement," THP Col. Tracy Trott said in the news release.
"We hope that this new tool will help reduce serious injury and fatal crashes across the state," he added.
Preliminary statistics as of Friday show one person has died on Tennessee roadways in 2014, compared to eight on Jan. 3, 2013.