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Posted by Jonathan A. Barash

Traffic fatalities reached a record low in the first half of 2009, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced last month. An estimated 16,626 people died in motor vehicle accidents on U.S. roads between January – June of 2009 compared with 17,871 during the first half of 2008. This represents a 7% decline. According to the NHTSA report, traffic fatalities have been declining steadily since reaching their peak in 2005.

Georgia’s experience appears to be tracking this national decrease in traffic fatalities. Through August 25, 2009, there were 803 fatalities on Georgia roadways, compared with 987 (a decrease of 184) since that same date last year. (Regional and county-by-county breakdowns can be found on online on the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety’s website.)

While fatalities continue to decrease statewide, the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety (GOHS) reports that Georgia’s rural roads experience more than twice as many traffic fatalities than the interstates, despite the fact that only 25% of Georgia’s population lives in rural areas. GOHS director, Bob Dallas, says that “one reason rural roads are more often the scene of fatal traffic crashes is because they’re likely more narrow, with no median between you and the oncoming traffic,” According to Dallas, “there are also more access roads allowing for traffic to enter and exit rural highways. This combination can often become the formula for a crash waiting to happen and the best way to survive a crash is a properly buckled seatbelt.” Dallas also noted that seat belt use in rural areas consistently trails the national average on urban highways.”

In an effort to address the disparity, GOHS has announced a special “Buckle-Up Country” enforcement initiative November 16th to coincide with Georgia’s traditional, statewide Click It or Ticket campaign.

While experts are sometimes reluctant to attribute particular factors to the decreases in traffic fatalities, it seems likely that state and federal data collection, combined with increased educational and enforcement initiatives such as Click it or Ticket have had some effect. As lawyers specializing in wrongful death and personal injury defense, we have seen the devastating effects that serious motor vehicle accidents have on all parties involved, and applaud any and all efforts to decrease the number of such accidents and to lessen the injuries that result.