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Updated 3:00 PM October 12, 2005




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Michigan puts brakes on number of traffic crashes

The number of fatal traffic crashes in Michigan dropped 10 percent in 2004, thanks to increased safety belt use and greater awareness of the dangers of drinking and driving, a U-M researcher says.

While fatal crashes in the state have fallen every year since 1999, the downward trend never has been more than 3 percent during that time—until this past year.

"The number of fatal crashes in 2004 was lower than that in 2003 for nine of the 12 months," says researcher Lidia Kostyniuk of the Transportation Research Institute. "This is most likely the result of the increase in safety belt use from about 85 percent in 2003 to nearly 91 percent in 2004, which accounts for about half of the reduction in vehicle fatalities."

In all, 1,055 fatal crashes—those involving vehicles, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians—took place on Michigan roadways last year, a drop of 117 from the year before and down 24 percent since 1995. About a third of the fatal crashes were alcohol-related, a decline of nearly 7 percent from 2003.

"The decrease in alcohol-related crashes could be a result of the 'You drink, you drive, you lose' public information and enforcement programs aimed at reducing impaired driving," Kostyniuk says.

In a report prepared for the Michigan Office of Highway Safety Planning, Kostyniuk explored the decline in the state's traffic crashes, both fatal and non-fatal, in 2004. In addition to the 10 percent drop in fatal crashes, the overall number of police-reported crashes (fatal, injury and property-damage-only crashes) in Michigan was down nearly 5 percent, from more than 391,000 in 2003 to 373,000 last year.

According to Kostyniuk, the decrease in overall crashes most likely was due to the continuing downward trend in crashes—down steadily each of the last four years with an overall decline of 14 percent since 1996—and a change in the minimum threshold for reporting non-injury crashes that went into effect at the beginning of 2004. The threshold was raised from $400 to $1,000.

"It should be noted, however, that it is very difficult to assess the monetary damage to a vehicle and it is not known to what extent this change in the threshold has resulted in a change in which non-injury crashes were reported," Kostyniuk says.

Although her report did not address advances in vehicle safety features in helping to explain Michigan's improving crash rates, Kostyniuk says that a greater proportion of vehicles are equipped with safety systems and may be a factor in the state's downward trend.

Other findings from the study include:

• Drivers ages 35-54 showed the largest increase in the number (10 percent) and proportion (36 percent) of drivers involved in fatal crashes during the past five years;

• Since 2000 there have been fewer drivers involved in fatal and non-fatal crashes in every age group, except the 55-to-69-year-old group;

• The number of crashes involving a driver who had been drinking has declined each of the last three years, falling nearly 4 percent in 2004;

• Motorcycle crashes increased 2 percent in 2004, after jumping nearly 7 percent the year before. Fatal crashes, however, remained unchanged last year at 78;

• The number of construction-zone crashes rose by more than 9 percent last year, after dropping by over 8 percent in 2003. There were 22 fatal crashes in construction zones in 2004, nearly double the 2003 number;

• Fatal pedestrian crashes dropped by 17 percent (down 28 to 141 total) last year, while fatal bicycle crashes fell by 34 percent (down 11 to 21 total);

• The proportion of children ages 3 and under who were killed or injured in crashes even though a safety belt or child safety seat restrained them increased in 2004. However, 60 percent to 70 percent of young children killed or injured were not in a child safety seat as required by law.

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