In light of the more than 500 deaths from vehicle accidents on Arkansas highways each year, a coalition of agencies has staked out an aggressive goal: Zero highway deaths.
Representatives from the Arkansas State Police, the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department and the Arkansas Department of Health outlined the details of the program Tuesday.
The “Toward Zero Deaths” campaign is part of a national effort built on the belief that even one traffic fatality is too many.
By combining the resources of the three state departments, officials hope they can make a quick, significant impact on highway safety.
“With around 500 fatalities happening on Arkansas roadways each year, traffic safety remains an important issue in our state,” said Col. Stan Witt, director of the Arkansas State Police and the governor’s highway safety representative. “By providing motorists with the knowledge they need to drive safely and continuing in our role to enforce the traffic laws, we will help move ‘Toward Zero Deaths’ here in Arkansas.”
The idea is that working together, the three agencies can do more than any one could alone. State police have first-hand understanding of crash sites. The Highway Department knows the engineering behind safer highways, and the Health Department knows how to analyze the numbers behind the people to understand mortality trends and to make accidents survivable.
Together, officials believe studying the data will make it possible to create highways that are safer through education, enforcement, engineering and emergency services strategies, according to a news release from the State Police Highway Safety Office.
The Arkansas Strategic Highway Safety Plan for 2013, a document that outlines how the Toward Zero Deaths program will be implemented, notes that in 2007, 650 people died on Arkansas Highways. Since then, efforts like implementation of the statewide trauma system, passing licensing and seatbelt laws and the installation of 100 miles of cable median barrier and 1,000 miles of rumble strips led to a 15 percent reduction in fatalities in four years, to just 551 by 2011.
Still, Arkansas had the second-highest traffic fatality rate in the county in 2010. Thus, the Arkansas Highway Safety Steering Committee decided to focus the 2013 safety document on a goal of zero fatalities.
Arkansas is bucking national trends currently. Although nationally fatalities were up 9 percent for the first six months of 2012 compared to the first six months of 2011, in Arkansas through October 2012 fatalities were 8 percent lower than in the same months of 2011.
The Safety Steering Committee, seeking to build on that momentum has sent an interim goal of reducing fatalities to 400 — a 20 percent reduction — by 2017 on the way to the final goals of no deaths.
To get there many people will have to work together, and we are pleased to see these statewide agencies taking the lead.
In the meantime, you can increase your own ability to survive Arkansas highways by the simple act of turning off your cell phone and stowing it in the glove compartment before you begin to drive. If you eliminate distractions, you will improve your driving. Today, highway safety starts and ends with you.
— Southwest Times Record