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Traffic deaths on the rise in Hall

Vehicle fatalities are down nationwide — except here

POSTED: August 2, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Traffic deaths are down throughout the nation. But Hall County is bucking the trend with a death toll that has risen during the last two years.

The high price of gasoline has been pegged as the most likely cause of the national drop, but some believe there are multiple factors at work.

In Hall County, the increasing number of deaths could be attributed to a growing number of cars on the roads.

In 2006, there were 19 traffic fatalities in Hall County. In 2007, that number spiked to 27. So far this year, 11 people have died in traffic accidents, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

While total traffic deaths this year may end up being fewer than last year, the overall trend us upward, according to the DOT.

"I would suspect it would be due to the massive growth in this area," said Cpl. Tim Meyer of the Georgia State Patrol.

Infrastructure has not had time to catch up with growth, which has led a sharp increase in the number of cars on the road, Meyer said.

Georgia Department of Transportation spokesman Mark McKinnon doesn’t think there is any one thing that is responsible for the unusual Hall County numbers.

"I just think that that happens to be a coincidence," McKinnon said.

Meyer said beside growth, there are other things that could put Hall County out of line with the rest of the country.

"Some of that, you’ve got to keep in mind, is due to multiple fatality accidents," Meyer said. "That can kind of skew things and make your numbers jump."

McKinnon said the severity of an accident is important to consider because if there are three deaths from one car accident, fatalities climb while the crash data stays consistent.

The number of traffic fatalities in Georgia has dropped overall, but there are only speculations as to why that is.

According to the Georgia Department of Transportation, there were 1,693 traffic fatalities in Georgia in 2006. In 2007, there were 1,641. And with just 514 deaths so far in 2008, it looks like Georgia’s numbers will continue to drop.

Meyer said it would be safe to assume that people are slowing down because gas is so expensive.

"We’ve seen reductions in speeding, there’s no question about it. We’re issuing less citations and less serious citations," Meyer said. "The car’s not efficient running 90 (mph) on an interstate. ... Your most fuel efficiency is at 55 mph and that’s what cars are designed for."

Meyer said that while speed affects the annual fatality rate, there are often other things to consider. He said DUI’s are responsible for between 34 to 38 percent of traffic deaths in any given year.

Deaths might also be down because newer cars are equipped with safety features like front and side air bags and anti-lock breaks.

"We have other statistics that show there are less vehicles on the road now due to the high gas prices as well," McKinnon said. And though gas is a factor, he said the Georgia Department of Transportation does not have one good answer for why the numbers have been dropping.

"We really don’t seem to be able to make a direct connection" McKinnon said.



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