Study: Illinois traffic deaths continue to climb



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Traffic fatalities in Illinois have continued to increase in the first six months of this year over the same period in previous years, even as the number of such deaths has slightly decreased nationally, according to a study released Tuesday.

A study of traffic fatalities nationwide by the National Safety Council, an Itasca-based safety advocacy group, found that deaths in Illinois went up 4 percent in the first half of 2017, to 516 from 494, compared to the first six months of last year. The national rate dropped 1 percent for the same period.

The fatality rate is up in Illinois by 17 percent compared with the first half of 2015. Nationally, motor vehicle deaths for January through June totaled 18,680, down from 18,930. Still, this year’s total is up 8 percent from the 2015 level.


“We don’t really have a good explanation of why Illinois is bucking a hopeful trend,” said Ken Kolosh, manager of the statistics group at the National Safety Council. He said two factors working against Illinois are that it lacks a motorcycle helmet law, and Illinois, along with several other states, has increased highway speed limits in recent years.

“When events occur, the higher the speed, the more fatal they tend to be,” Kolosh said. The speed limit on rural interstates in Illinois rose to 70 mph from 65 mph in 2014.

Safety experts have attributed the rise in traffic deaths nationally over the past two years to the ongoing problems of speeding and drunken and distracted driving, combined with the presence of more cars on the road.

One factor in the slight drop in fatalities nationwide this year may be that the increase in vehicle miles traveled has slowed, to 1.5 to 1.7 percent in 2017 from 3 to 3.5 percent in 2015 and 2016, Kolosh said.

The National Safety Council cautioned in a statement that the second half of the year is typically deadlier than the first half, so no one should feel complacent about the slight decrease. Kolosh said the numbers are preliminary and more detail would be available at the end of the year.

Kolosh said the NSC has seen in recent years a rise in “vulnerable road user” deaths, including motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists.

“We are concerned that some deaths of vulnerable road users is related to the increase in distracted driving, and to distracted pedestrians and bicyclists as well,” Kolosh said.

Traffic deaths in neighboring Indiana have risen 12 percent in the first six months of 2017 compared with the same period last year, and are up 21 percent since the first half of 2015, the report found. In Wisconsin, traffic deaths fell in the first half of the year by 2 percent, the study found.


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