State police increasing efforts on safe driving education

State police hope that by constantly reminding the public about the number of people killed in traffic accidents, they can reduce the number.

Although statewide there were fewer fatalities on Illinois roads in 2008 than in 2007, the number in the nine counties that make up District 10 was up, according to Capt. Stuart Shaver of the Pesotum post.

There were 69 deaths in the district, compared with 59 in 2007. Of the 69 deaths, 23 were in Champaign County.

"The Illinois State Police's goal is to reduce fatalities by 2010 to 1,010. (In 2008) we were at 1,042 fatalities, which is 204 fewer than in 2007," he said.

Shaver attributes the lower numbers statewide to better seat-belt use and more efficient patrolling.

"We like to think that, enforcement-wise, departments have gotten smarter about patrolling and being visible at the right times and looking for specific violations," he said.

Troopers now try to prevent the "fatal five" – no seat belts, driving under the influence, speeding, following too closely and improper lane usage – rather than merely reacting to an area where there were more accidents than usual.

Shaver said that in half the 23 fatal accidents in Champaign County, alcohol was involved. In about two-thirds, those killed weren't wearing seat belts.

Shaver said the parents of a teen killed in September when he was thrown from a truck came to see the troopers who handled the accident.

"They made a point of saying they had begged him to wear his seat belt and just couldn't get him to do that. You feel for them. This is a young man who's not only been told by us but by his parents. He's 19. It's his decision not to put it on, and unfortunately, it cost him his life. That's the type of person we're targeting," Shaver said.

Troopers give extensive education in high schools about wearing seat belts and the dangers of mixing drinking and cell-phone use with driving. And seven of the 55 in the district are now assigned exclusively to alcohol- and drug-impairment enforcement patrols, Shaver said.

Shaver said five of the people killed in Champaign County last year were motorcyclists: Three died because of other drivers; two were speeding when they hit other vehicles.

No matter who's at fault, Shaver said, motorcyclists are more vulnerable where there is more traffic. And with more people getting motorcycles to conserve gas, the need for safety training and helmets has increased.

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