Iowa’s traffic death toll last year was the lowest since 1944, according to the state Department of Transportation.
Preliminary figures indicated that 359 people died on Iowa’s roadways in 2011, said Michael Pawlovich, a DOT traffic safety/crash data engineer. That compared to 390 highways deaths the previous year and the lowest yearly fatalities count since 1944, he said.
Pawlovich said the decrease mirrors a national trend toward fewer yearly fatalities and points toward the positive effects of increased seat-belt usage, improved vehicle and roadway designs, increased enforcement of traffic laws, law changes dealing with blood-alcohol content and texting, and better driving habits being inhibited by motorists who may be making shorter trips due to economic conditions. He noted that the overall number of vehicle crashes that did not result in death also declined last year.
“It’s really hard to say is the problem. You’ve got so many factors” that contribute to traffic statistics, Pawlovich noted. “Was it drivers’ driving better, drivers being more aware, are we doing a better job of marketing safety to people? Hopefully, the answer is yes.”
Iowa’s on track to have an even-lower traffic fatalities count for 2011 in mid-December but experienced a rash of fatal accidents as the year ended that spiked the death toll from 336 on Dec. 15 to the 359 highway-related deaths reported so far, he said. Overall 2011 traffic deaths may not be finalized until February as reports get processed.Pawlovich noted that yearly highway fatalities have been below 400 in Iowa for the past three years. “The last time that happened was probably way back during the war years” in the 1940s, he said. “It’s interesting for us to figure out what is causing it because keep doing more of that, whatever it is. It’s speculation at best at this point.”