Arizona roads saw an increase in fatal crashes in 2016, claiming the lives of 962 people. In Pima County, 113 people were killed last year, a 24 percent increase from 2015, according to an Arizona Department of Transportation annual report.
The number of state fatalities was up from 897 deaths in 2015, says the state Motor Vehicle Crash Facts report, which sums up data provided by state and local law enforcement agencies. In Pima County, total traffic deaths last year rose from 91 in 2015.
The results are compiled from Arizona Traffic Crash Reports submitted to ADOT by state, county, city, tribal and other law enforcement agencies.
Arizona also saw a 21 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities from 163 in 2015 to 197 in 2016.
According to the report, not using seat belts, speeding and reckless driving, and impairment were among the leading factors in traffic fatalities. Of those killed last year, 250 were not using a seat belt. Crashes involving impairment related to alcohol, illegal drugs or prescription medication killed 406 people and injured 4,089.
“Making travel safer begins before drivers turn on the ignition,” said ADOT Director John Halikowski, in a news release. “Too many people make the deadly decision to drive impaired, whether by alcohol, prescription pills or other drugs, and put all of us at risk,” Halikowski said.
For the second year in a row, according to the report, 406 people were killed statewide in impaired driving-related crashes. Alcohol-related fatalities decreased — falling from 329 killed in 2015 to 307 in 2016.
Alberto Gutier, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said, “The gains made in reducing alcohol-related crashes and fatalities are steps in the right direction, but there is still much work to be done. Driving impaired is a choice and people need to be aware that it’s a choice they don’t have to make — there are many other ways to get home safely.”
The breakdown for Pima County fatalities in 2016 shows that of the 113 traffic-related deaths, 23 were pedestrians, six were bicyclists and 19 were motorcyclists. Driving under the influence claimed the lives of 32 people. Of the 91 total deaths in 2015, 19 were pedestrians, five bicyclists and 11 motorcyclists. DUI’s caused 40 deaths.
In a recent interview, Tucson Police Traffic Sgt. Mike Dietsch said impaired drivers and pedestrians contribute to fatalities, along with people who don’t use crosswalks to cross streets. Since January to June 23, there have been 29 traffic fatalities in the city, compared to 28 at this time last year.
In at least nine of the pedestrian fatalities this year, those killed were not using a crosswalk to get across a street and eight of the nine were hit by motorists when it was dark, Dietsch said. He said crosswalks in general, and traffic light signals at crosswalks, help keep pedestrians safe.
However, said Dietsch, in general “it is amazing how many people are within 20 to 40 feet of a crosswalk when they get hit.” Pedestrians must make a little extra effort to be in a crosswalk, and pay attention to traffic even though they have the right-of-way, he said. “We see so many people talking on their cellphone while they are crossing the street.”
He said at least four pedestrians struck by motorists this year were under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Also, three pedestrians who were not in crosswalks when struck had officers talk to them in previous instances about walking in the roadway. Some had citations for jaywalking or walking in the street rather than on a sidewalk, Dietsch said.
Distracted drivers also cause crashes, Dietsch said. He said some of those distractions include eating while behind the wheel, listening to the radio, putting in a CD or changing the station, using electronic devices, yelling at the kids and rushing to get to work.
“Drivers need to slow down, obey the speed limits, wear seat belts and not drive distracted,” he said. “This all plays a role in safety.”
“In Arizona, we have some of the toughest DUI laws in the country, but sadly, it is not enough of a deterrent to stop people” from driving impaired, Dietsch said.
He said agencies work to enforce the DUI laws, including saturation patrols and checkpoints during the holidays and other times of the year. “I hope at some point we will stop fatal collisions involving impaired drivers.”