Sunday, January 9, 2011

News-Press: Lee County traffic fatalities drop

Lee County traffic fatalities drop
Collier sees road deaths go up by one

by Gabriella Souza • • January 9, 2011

On March 9, 2010, Chelsey Murphy had just been handed the keys to her new apartment.

As she rushed across U.S. 41 in Naples, back to her mother’s home, the driver of a white Kia didn’t see the 19-year-old and her friend and struck them. Jacque Dampier, 18, was on his cell phone, and drove off, dragging Murphy’s body 105 feet.

After five days in a coma, Murphy died. She was four weeks pregnant.

Murphy’s death was the result of one of 104 fatal wrecks to occur in Lee and Collier counties in 2010.

Traffic deaths in Lee County tumbled 12 percent, continuing a five-year trend, falling to 64 from 73 the year before. They increased in Collier by one, up to 40 in 2010 from 39 the year before. [Note from Jay Anderson: "The story unfortunately is inaccurate. There were 80 fatalities in 2009 which equals a 20% reduction."]
Officials attribute the drop in Lee to a variety of factors — from ramped up awareness of distracted driving to a still-slow economy to enforcement of traffic laws.

But Jay Anderson, executive director of the traffic safety organization Stay Alive Just Drive, emphasizes every traffic death is life-changing, for the victims’ families and to the people involved in the crash.

“Sixty-four fatalities is good. But is it acceptable? No, no fatality is acceptable,” Anderson said.

As in previous years, officials say the number of people without jobs has meant a drop in traffic on roadways — less money for gas has meant less driving. Lee’s unemployment rate was 13.3 percent in November.

“I think we have a lot of people making economically smarter decisions” such as having drinks at home instead of going out, drinking, and driving, said Lt. Jim Drzymala head of the Lee County Sheriff’s Office traffic unit.

That, in turn, decreases the number of alcohol-related crashes, he said.

A dip in population also could be a factor — Lee lost 1,800 residents from July 2008 to July 2009, according to census data.

Distracted driving — driving while texting or talking on a cell phone — has garnered local activism this year. The Fort Myers Police Department is keeping its officers from texting in their patrol cars and most local governments have banned their employees from texting while driving as well.

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What are the trends for bike/ped fatalities in Lee County over the same period? We'll ask LeeDOT and share the results with you. Stay tuned!

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