State Politics

Eliminate all traffic deaths? NC leaders say it could eventually happen

For realism in a mock car crash for Carrboro High School students Friday, March 21, 2014, a Carrboro firefighter, left, stands by with a water hose as fellow Carrboro firefighters work to extricate Carrboro High student volunteers acting the part of car crash victims on the CHS football field. The Tarheel One rescue helicopter and crew lift off in background with a simulated patient. Over 500 CHS juniors and seniors watched as real local first responders attend victims of a mock head-on collision to illustrate the dangers of impaired and distracted driving.
For realism in a mock car crash for Carrboro High School students Friday, March 21, 2014, a Carrboro firefighter, left, stands by with a water hose as fellow Carrboro firefighters work to extricate Carrboro High student volunteers acting the part of car crash victims on the CHS football field. The Tarheel One rescue helicopter and crew lift off in background with a simulated patient. Over 500 CHS juniors and seniors watched as real local first responders attend victims of a mock head-on collision to illustrate the dangers of impaired and distracted driving. hlynch@newsobserver.com

State leaders set an ambitious goal Monday as they launched a new traffic safety program: Cutting the number of crash deaths to zero.

N.C. Vision Zero seeks to improve safety on the state’s roads by bringing together law enforcement, emergency responders, engineers and drivers. While 1,387 people died in North Carolina traffic accidents last year, N.C. Department of Transportation leaders say the state can cut that number in half within 15 years, and eventually eliminate all traffic deaths.

“For us, it’s more of a vision,” said Don Nail, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, noting that driverless cars will eventually help improve the statistics. “We know that we’re not going to achieve that overnight.”

In a video introducing the program, Gov. Pat McCrory calls the current number of deaths “not only sad but unacceptable.”

“This initiative will remove silos and create a data-driven effort to end traffic-related crashes and fatalities,” McCrory says.

The Vision Zero program includes a website, ncvisionzero.org, which offers a variety of traffic statistics and other data. State agencies and anyone who’s interested can track trends in the number of crashes and causes, such as alcohol, speeding and distracted driving.

Of the 793 traffic deaths so far this year, 368 victims weren’t wearing seat belts. Speeding was a factor in 155 deaths, alcohol played a role in 168, and 100 were due to distracted driving practices, such as cellphone use.

The data also helps law enforcement and traffic engineers determine where crashes are happening frequently so they can take action to prevent future wrecks.

“We’re trying to put tools in folks’ hands – law enforcement, hospitals and EMS – they can go in and look at their own data,” Nail said. “The data’s going to be very specific.”

N.C. Vision Zero is also encouraging drivers to take an online pledge to obey speed limits, wear a seat belt, never drink and drive and to “keep my eyes on the road, my hands on the wheel, and my mind on driving.”

Part of reducing traffic deaths, Nail says, is getting drivers to “start thinking about the personal responsibility that people have when they get behind the wheel.”

Colin Campbell: 919-829-4698, @RaleighReporter

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