Kentucky’s highway fatalities dropped in 2017, marking the first decrease in four years.
Preliminary numbers show 770 people statewide died in car crashes in 2017, which was down from 834 in 2016.
“We’re really excited,” Kentucky Office of Highway Safety Executive Director Noelle Hunter said. “It is a pretty big drop. The national rate is still going up. Kentucky is doing something in a good way.”
The highway safety office has created statewide messaging programs, many of them location specific, to educate drivers about road safety.
“One of those is an ongoing coordinated message board campaign,” said Wes Watt, pubic information officer for the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet District 3 office in Bowling Green. “And folks will have noticed throughout the year, particularly around holidays but not just holidays, there have been creative messages put on the message board about highway safety in the hopes of getting folks’ attention.
“We also have a program where we take out a rollover simulator to local schools across the state. That has been at several schools in our district. That really gives high school students a hands-on visual of what can happen when people drink and drive or texting and driving. ... I believe that that has certainly played a major impact in bringing down the highway deaths this year. It’s certainly not everything, but it has had a positive impact.”
The state highway department also operates a program called Safe Patrol. These trucks and the drivers help motorists and help manage traffic during highway incidents.
“It’s too soon to tell a causal reason why (highway deaths) are going down,” Hunter said. “We can say we’ve completely changed the way we put out our safety messages from this office. We have gone from a statewide approach to a regional and a local focus.
“We are taking the messages of buckling up, not driving distracted and making a good decision to plan a ride if a person is going to be drinking to a local level. I think we’ve also gotten more creative with how we are delivering these messages.”
People were getting so used to seeing the “click it or ticket” and “drive sober” highway signage that many drivers were tuning out those messages.
“We still have those campaigns, and we still do the enforcement with our law enforcement partners. Anecdotally, we believe it’s the creative new messaging and the localized focus that is turning the tide” on highway fatalities, Hunter said.
Another program aimed at educating drivers is the Local Heroes project that features local law enforcement officers in community-centric multimedia campaigns urging people to wear seat belts. Warren County was one of 10 pilot counties selected for that project because it has one of the lowest seat-belt usage rates in the state at 87.4 percent. Hart County is also part of the project with 84.7 percent seat-belt usage.
In Warren County, Bowing Green Police Department Officer Marc Kaiser and Warren County Sheriff’s Deputy Shane Montgomery were selected to appear in the public service Local Heroes Campaign messages.
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