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Numbers Show Traffic Fatalities at 68-year Low

State Office of Traffic Safety releases city-by-city rankings.

Numbers Show Traffic Fatalities at 68-year Low

The good news in Martinez and across the state is that pedestrians, cyclists, bikers and drivers stand a much better chance of making it home in one piece.

And we have seat belts, improved auto design and education to thank, said a spokesman for the California Office of Traffic Safety.

The office has updated its Collision Rankings to include 2010 data, the most recent available, culling reports from the California Highway Patrol, Caltrans, county coroners, the state departments of finance and justice. The new rankings offer raw numbers and comparative scores, showing how each city compares to others of its size and how counties compare to the state.

Not since 1944 have traffic fatalities plunged so low, “and that’s with just one-twelfth of the number of people out on the road,” said Chris Cochran, assistant director of marking and public affairs for the safety office.

“Overall, in the last five years, every category is getting better,” he said, looking approvingly at Martinez’ numbers. “Even motorcycles turned around a couple years ago."

Martinez falls into Group D: cities with populations between 25,001 and 50,000. There are 93. With a No. 1 ranking representing the worst and a 100 the best, Martinez ranked 79 out of 93 cities for both its number of motorcycle collisions and accidents striking pedestrians age 65 and older.

In 2010, Martinez had 74 accidents involving injury or death, and six alcohol-related wrecks. By comparison, Pleasant Hill, another city in the same population range, experienced 169 fatal or serious accidents and 16 linked to alcohol use. And San Pablo, with nearly 7,000 fewer residents, had twice as many alcohol-linked accidents and 82 deadly or serious collisions.

The numbers show serious accidents slid from from 78 in 2006 to 74 in 2010. During the same period of time, alcohol-related accidents lessened slightly, going from 9 in 2006 to 6 in 2010.

Public awareness campaigns like those that discourage drunk driving or encourage the use of seat belts have made an enormous dent in driving habits, Cochran said.

But the rankings alone can mislead: While Martinez came in at 58 in accidents involving bicycles, the actual number is only 1.

“The smaller the city, the less accurate the rankings are,” Cochran said. “It only takes 1 or 2 to make big changes, Officials have to look more at the raw numbers, how do they look from year to year. The whole purpose is to see what can be done differently.”

For instance, a city with gaps in pedestrian safety can seek grants through the OTS to fund roadway improvements. Those with high numbers of alcohol-related crashes might seek funding for increased DUI patrols, checkpoints, or breathalyzer kits.

The results offered up some mysteries. For instance, Sacramento is the worst in the state for alcohol-related crashes. No single cause stands out.

The OTS is conducting its own public awareness campaign this month in an effort to get motorists to abandon the use of cell phones while driving – the number one source of motorist distraction, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: April is “National Distracted Driving Month.”

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