Traffic deaths at 23-year low

Published 7:41 pm Thursday, January 8, 2009

Kendra Majors

While 2008 was a year many hope to forget, it proved to be the safest year on Alabama highways since 1985, the governor’s office said Wednesday.

According to preliminary numbers released by the state, 633 people lost their lives in these accidents on Alabama’s highways.

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The 2008 number is a 17 percent reduction from 2007 and the lowest number of fatalities worked by state troopers in 23 years, when the state recorded 618 deaths.

“When it comes to saving lives, Alabama is moving in the right direction,” Governor Riley said during a news conference at the Department of Public Safety on Wednesday.

“What’s especially important to realize is this:  our 17 percent drop in highway deaths is well above the 10 percent drop recorded nationally.  That means while a decrease in highway travel has played a role, it isn’t the only reason why deaths are down in Alabama” Riley said.

One of the main reasons for the decline in deaths, crashes and injuries is the work of state agencies in efforts such as “Take Bake Our Highways,” and the blood alcohol testing equipment called BAT mobiles that help take drunk drivers off of roads more quickly.

The Alabama Department of Transportation has also worked to put up new barriers along interstate medians and wider lanes on many rural highways to help make roadways safer.

In rural areas, they have also worked to widen narrow roads and repave dangerous roads to help decrease wrecks associated with running off the road.

“Based on a reduction in crashes and fatalities, our statistics indicate that we’ve saved over 150 lives since 2003 by installing guardrails and other barriers along 180 miles of interstate highway to prevent cross-median crashes,” said Transportation Director Joe McInnes. “We’re also confident that our rural road widening project will begin showing reductions in fatalities in rural areas.”

The BAT mobiles are a key component of Task Force Zero, a state trooper initiative to combat drunk driving.

The task force focuses on detecting, testing and processing impaired drivers through increased patrols and DUI checkpoints across the state.

BAT mobiles are equipped with custom alcohol testing gear provided by the Department of Forensic Sciences and other equipment needed to process impaired drivers and gather evidence for court.

Video cameras inside the BAT mobiles record footage that can be used as evidence in court, as a training tool for officers and as a way to ensure that officers perform their job duties correctly.