2016 Traffic Fatalities Near Record Low – Lack of Seatbelt Use Significant Cause in Most Deaths

January 6, 2017

PIERRE, S.D. – South Dakota’s 115 traffic fatalities in 2016 are expected to be the lowest since 2011 and second lowest since 1960.

Official numbers are not expected for several weeks, but the final number is not expected to dramatically change.  The 2016 total represents a noteworthy 14.2 percent decrease from the 134 fatalities reported in 2015.

“South Dakota is a national leader in the reduction of traffic fatalities,” says state Office of Highway Safety director Lee Axdahl, “which is particularly encouraging in a year when so many of our other states have been seeing significant increases.  Obviously, this is the direction that we want to go every year but we cannot do it without the help of our friends and family members who drive.”

The number of fatal crashes also was down – 102 in 2016 compared to 116 in 2015.

Authorities stress there is more work that needs to be done. Fatalities related to both speed and alcohol were up slightly while almost 70 percent of those who died were not wearing seatbelts.

The Highway Patrol also has been involved in that safety effort. Along with the normal enforcement and education, troopers were instructed last month to start issuing citations for any vehicle occupant not wearing a seatbelt.

“Seatbelts save lives and many people understand that,” says Col. Craig Price, superintendent of the Highway Patrol. “But we want to make sure more people buckle up all the time. That is not just drivers, but passengers as well.”

Axdahl says the Office of Highway Safety’s safe driving messages in 2017 will be directed towards high risk drivers, including teens, young adults, and rural motorists. The office also is sponsoring two safe driving commercials to air during this year’s Super Bowl.

“We are going to keep reminding the public every way we can to wear their seatbelts,” Axdahl says. “It is a very sad and heartbreaking fact that many of those who died in 2016 would still be alive today if they had just buckled up.”

The Office of Highway Safety and the Highway Patrol are part of the Department of Public Safety.

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