After years of declines in traffic fatalities, deaths in crashes are on the rise again in Tennessee. But state highway officials are hoping a federal demonstration project will reverse that trend.
Kendell Poole, director of the Governor’s Highway Safety Office, told The Commercial Appeal that deaths in traffic accidents in Tennessee fell by about one-third over the previous seven years. In 2011, the 946 traffic deaths in the state was the lowest number recorded since 1962.
But over the first three months of 2012, traffic fatalities jumped by about 28 percent.
Poole suggested the spike in deaths could be due to early warm weather and a rebounding economy leading to more miles being driven. There were 238 deaths over January, February and March of this year compared to 186 for the first quarter of 2011.
“`We are coming up with and implementing a big game plan to get those fatalities back down,” Poole said.
That’s where the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “combined messaging” demonstration project comes in.
In the past, highway safety messages have always targeted one specific problem behavior, such as not wearing seatbelts (“click it or ticket”) or drinking and driving (“booze it and lose it”).
With the combined messaging project, “they’re testing the ability to say more than one thing in a message and see if it resonates,” Poole said. So drivers might now see signs that read, “buckle up and watch your speed,” for instance.
Poole said the messages could be different in different parts of the state, depending on what the biggest problems are in those areas.
Oklahoma is the only other state participating in the project.
Tennessee is receiving $500,000 from the federal government over two years for its participation.
Poole said the state will use that money to offer an incentive to local law enforcement agencies to participate by collecting data.
The state will purchase six squad cards and participating law enforcement agencies in each of the state’s three grand divisions will have a chance to win one during each of the two years of the demonstration project.
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