Since 2010, Illinois state troopers have written fewer tickets every year. In fact, by the end of this year, the number will have dropped by 49%. while this will certainly equate to lost revenue for ticket attorneys, the defensive driving industry and the state, it may be leading to an even greater loss, the loss of life.
Comparing the Numbers
While traffic fatality rates have fluctuated over the past five years, 2016 has already seen over 1000 people die on Illinois roadways, the highest since 2008. There is no question that higher speeds have the potential of adding to fatality numbers, and a lack of enforcement coupled with an increase of rural highway speed limits from 65 to 70 mph in 2014 may be a causative factor in the increase of fatalities.
Bob Washburn, a resident of Edwardsville, Illinois, stated: “As for enforcement, it has all but disappeared.” He says that he may see one person a week pulled over while on his daily commute. He also commented that state troopers may have abandoned their “Wolfpack” enforcement strategy. The wolfpack approach involves several motorcycle officers working together to patrol a particular stretch of highway. It is no surprise that when people aren’t being watched, they will tend to drive at higher speeds.
The ISP’s Take
The Illinois state police disagree with the assessment that it is only higher speeds leading to the increase in fatality numbers. While they concur that speeding may be part of the problem, they contend that is not the whole of the problem. The ISP concentrates on what they call the “Fatal Four” violations. These violations include speeding, DUI, distracted driving and seatbelt compliance.
The ISP also cites the fact that the number of miles driven on Illinois roadways increases every year. With gas prices and unemployment down, more people are working as the economy is better. This translates to more people on the road, more miles traveled per driver and an increase in the overall number of vehicles in service.
Bad Habits on the Rise
It could be that distracted driving leads more to the increase in fatality numbers than higher speeds. Matt Wells, Midwest Trucking Association associate director, says that reports from Illinois truckers indicate an increased use of cell phones, watching videos or using tablets by drivers on the roadways. From the vantage point of their big rigs, they see this behavior as a bigger problem than being passed at unsafe speeds. Wells was quoted as saying “There are always going to be a certain amount of cars that are going to travel faster than what the traffic flow is.” He does say that Association members still see people passing trucks at well over the posted 70 mph but that, even in these circumstances, traffic flows fairly well.
Will Our Cars Save Us?
While it is true that the number of cars with safety features such as lane warning sensors and automatic braking is on the rise, they are still the exception rather than the rule. It is clear that safer cars do play a significant role in fatality decreases. The highest death toll of any year on Illinois highways was 2600, a mark reached in 1941. However, even the most advanced automotive safety technology is no match for drivers who text, watch videos and surf the web while behind the wheel. Responsible driving will win out over gadgets every time.