Report: Idaho crash fatals up 16 percent -– more than twice the national average

Posted at 10:14 AM, Feb 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-15 12:14:27-05

Crash fatalities increased dramatically in 2015 -- and a casual approach to safe driving habits may be part of the problem, according to a new AAA survey.

The United States Department of Transportation says that vehicle crash fatalities increased 7.2 percent in 2015.

The problem was worse in Idaho. The Idaho Transportation Department reports Gem State crash fatalities increased 16.1 percent during the same period –- that’s more than two times the national average.

Nearly one in three U.S. drivers has a friend or relative that has been seriously injured or killed in a motor vehicle crash.  “Many Americans have experienced the personal loss that follows when safe driving is overlooked,” says AAA Idaho spokesman Matthew Conde.  “When drivers don’t feel personally responsible to behave safely behind the wheel, tragedy isn’t far behind.”

AAA’s “2016 Traffic Safety Culture Index” drivers are more likely to participate in risky behavior that they would not normally tolerate from their friends or relatives.

Nearly all drivers (96.7 percent) disapprove of drinking and driving, yet thirteen percent of respondents admit to driving at least once in the past year when they thought their alcohol level was close to or above the legal limit. 

In 2015, Idaho recorded 87 impaired-driving crash fatalities, an increase of 20.8 percent.

As cell phones provide greater access to information and entertainment, they also become a bigger source of distraction for many drivers, experts say. 

According to the AAA study, most drivers (91.7 percent) believe distracted driving is a “somewhat” or “much bigger” problem than three years ago.  At the same time, more than two in three drivers (68.2 percent) say they have talked on a cell phone in the past 30 days; more than 40 percent have read a text or an email during that time frame.

“The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety partnered with the University of Utah to conduct a study on the distracted driving problem.

According to ITD, distracted driving was a factor in 23 percent of Idaho’s motor vehicle crashes in 2015, with 51 people killed that year.

Speeding and red-light running are also counted among the bad habits of many U.S. drivers.  Nearly half of drivers (45.6 percent) say they have driven fifteen miles per hour over the speed limit on a freeway in the past month, and more than one in three drivers admit to driving through a red light in the past 30 days, when they could have stopped safely.

Aggressive driving was a contributing factor in 52 percent of Idaho’s motor vehicle crashes in 2015, leading to 12,383 crashes and 77 fatalities –- an increase of nearly seven percent.

Experts report 35 percent of Americans fall short of the recommended seven hours of daily sleep.  According to a AAA study, drivers who sleep four to five hours instead of the recommended seven quadruple their risk of being in a crash.  That’s the same as driving with a blood-alcohol level above the legal limit in all fifty states, authorities pointed out.

While nearly 85 percent of respondents say that drowsy driving is a “serious threat to personal safety,” nearly three in ten also acknowledged they have driven at least one time in the past thirty days when they were so tired that they had a hard time keeping their eyes open.

The AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety estimates that drowsy driving contributes to 21 percent of car crash fatalities nationwide.