BY KEN LITTLE
Traffic fatalities in Greene County totaled 18 in 2012, down from 20 in 2011, according to figures from the Tennessee Department of Research, Statistics and Analysis.
Meanwhile, the two traffic fatalities in Greene County through Jan. 28 of this year are consistent with figures from the same period in 2012.
Overall, 2012 traffic fatalities in the 13-county Tennessee Highway Patrol (THP) Fall Branch-District 5 were up more than 20 percent between 2011 and 2012, from 100 to 121.
Any decline in figures in rural counties such as Greene is due primarily to factors such as enforcement and education, said THP Lt. Derrick Watson, administrative lieutenant for the Fall Branch District.
Driver awareness is also a key factor, he said.
"Focus on your driving, and always be aware that that there's someone besides you that's out there," Watson said. "Get folks in that frame of mind, and [the THP] is the second line of defense. [Focused drivers] are the first line of defense."
Law enforcement can't be everywhere at once, and the narrow, winding, two-lane rural roads in Greene County can prove deadly to drivers who are impaired, texting or otherwise distracted, Watson said.
"In Greene County, you would think that (U.S.) 11E would be where you have one of the largest amounts of fatal crashes, but that's not always true. Most of the fatal crashes in Greene County occur on county roadways," Watson said.
"It's hard for us a lot of time to pinpoint a cause or a factor. It's random."
The THP and other agencies such as the Governor's Highway Safety Office study the data, "and we do see what could be leading to these crashes," Watson said.
"With a lot of them, you will see an intersection that leads to fatal crashes, or you're looking at a single vehicle that drives off the road and strikes a tree," he said.
"Education is how you plan for that. (The public) has to be conscious of their driving all the time."
THP sobriety checkpoints and driver license checkpoints, which are conducted regularly, also act as a deterrent to unsafe driving, Watson said.
The dates and locations of Greene County checkpoints are published in The Greeneville Sun in advance at the request of the THP.
"Being at the scene, having more checkpoints, they seem to help. Folks read those, and they talk to each other, and that helps us so much," Watson said.
STATE FATALITIES UP
Statewide, traffic fatalities in Tennessee increased from 937 in 2011 to 1,019 in 2012.
In addition, fatalities in Tennessee are up through Jan. 28 of this year, at 68, compared with the same time frame in 2012, when there were 61 fatalities.
"We try to do our best to be accountable out there. We try to be a deterrent," Watson said.
Kendell Poole, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Office, said this week that the Tri-Cities area plays a prominent role in the safety strategies used by the office.
"The Governor's Highway Safety Office works diligently with our partners across the state to ensure all Tennesseans arrive at their destinations safely," Poole said.
"The Tri-Cities area is very important to us as we continue to work with local law enforcement and community members to implement prevention initiatives to save lives on the roadways."
Often, simple precautions such as wearing seat belts and making sure children have proper safety restraints can save lives in a crash, Watson pointed out.
"In our eyes, issuing a citation and making an arrest -- that's not truly the key to saving lives. The public is the key to saving lives," he said.
For county-by-county information on Tennessee traffic fatality rates, go to: