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New Pinellas County crash data: teen drivers, pedestrian and bicycle accidents draw concern

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Pinellas County’s Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) reviewed the area’s newly released 2014 Crash Data Report during their July 8 regular meeting.

The report examines crash data between 2011 and 2013, with the compilers having taken 2014 to organize and make sense of the statistics. Data from car, motorcycle, bicycle and pedestrian- related crashes were recorded. Like life, the report entertains both the good and the bad.

The Good

Total Pinellas County fatalities dropped 35 percent over the three-year span, despite a 1.27 percent population increase throughout the county. That equates to only 80 crash fatalities in 2013 compared to 123 in 2011.

To go a little further with it, the Pinellas County fatality rate, which calculates the average number of people killed in an automobile-related crash per 100,000 citizens, was down almost 36 percent — coming in at 8.61 deaths per 100,000 county residents in 2013.

Fatalities and injuries related to bicycle accidents declined from 335 in 2011 to 306 in 2013. While pedestrian-involved deaths and injuries fell from 491 in 2012 to 410 in 2013.

Motorcycle fatalities in Pinellas County also declined from a high of 28 in 2011 to a low of 16 in 2013.

Teen drivers (ages 15 to 19) throughout Pinellas, while not faring very well in the total crash category, managed to decrease their total number of crash injuries by just over 21 percent between 2011 and 2013. They also saw a 33 percent decrease in total fatalities, which went from six in 2011, to one in 2012, and then four in 2013.

Aggressive-driving-related injuries, which are defined by the 2014 Crash Report as injuries relating to crashes involving a driver who “failed to yield at a right-of-way, failed to keep in the proper lane, followed too closely, ran a red light, ran a stop sign, passed improperly, exceeded the posted speed limit, disregarded other road markings, operated a motor vehicle in an erratic or reckless manner, or who disregarded other traffic signage,” dropped 11 percent in 2013. And the number of aggressive-driving-related fatalities fell by nearly 62 percent over the same time period.

Statistically, data related to impaired driving crashes showed some of the report’s most positive results. Between 2011 and 2013 total impaired driving crashes were down nearly 11 percent, while total injuries were down 25 percent. The impaired driver crash rate per 100,000 citizens was also down 12 percent, to 111 per 100,000 people.

The two big stats are the 62.5 percent decrease in impaired driving fatalities, and the 46 percent drop in the number of Pinellas County crashes related to impaired driving — down from 7.79 percent in 2011 to 4.2 percent in 2013.

The Bad

As noted, there comes a decent amount of bad with the good.

While motorcycle crash fatalities were down, motorcycle crashes alone actually went up from 541 in 2011 to 619 in 2013 throughout Pinellas County.

Aging road users also seemed to have a statistically hard go of it between 2011 and 2013 in Pinellas County. Total crashes, total injuries and total fatalities for the demographic were all up over the three-year span.

Data on distracted drivers showed the single most negative statistic presented in the report. It showed crashes related to distracted drivers increased an eye-opening 77 percent between 2011 and 2013.

Oddly enough, the first cause that comes to mind — cell phones — actually didn’t have all that much to do with the 77 percent rise in distracted driver crashes, according to MPO Planning Section Manager Rodney Chatman, who gave the presentation to the MPO Board.

“We were surprised to see that texting wasn’t more prevalent, or more heavily reported, during these incidences,” Chatman said. “Officers were actually flagging driver inattention as the primary cause for these crashes.”

The most common type of crash for distracted drivers were front to rear collisions, which were experienced 53 percent of the time that an accident was attributed to a distracted driver.

The same is true for teen drivers — the category that received the most noticeable concern from the 13-member MPO Board. They experienced a 40 percent front to rear collision rate while getting into accidents.

More alarming were teen drivers’ high crash totals. The number of individual accidents increased by nearly 1,000 over the three=year span of data collection, going up from 1,616 accidents in 2011 to 2,605 accidents in 2013, a dramatic 61 percent increase.

“I think we [the MPO] should be partnering with the sheriff, with schools, to find a way to make drivers education more prevalent,” said Dunedin Mayor Julie Bujalski to her fellow MPO Board members after explaining that some high schools offer drivers education over the summer, when students are less likely to enroll in it.

“I know that drivers education is an elective,” continued Bujalski, “and not something that everyone thinks is important. But I think the data is showing us something different.”

Further Insight

Despite the 2014 MPO Crash Report’s favorable local statistics on pedestrian and bicyclist accidents, Pinellas County still has a little way to go before matching the success of its state-wide counterparts.

“If you compare Pinellas County to Hillsborough County, Broward County, Orange County, other large urban counties in Florida,” said Whit Blanton, MPO executive director, “we’re killing and maiming pedestrians and bicyclists at a much higher rate than those other counties are […] Which tells me this is a bit of a unique problem for us.”

One of the potential solutions for the issue had to do with reducing speed limits. The report showed that an individual struck by a car going 20 mph had a 90 percent chance of living; at 30 mph a 60 percent chance of living; and at 40 mph a 10 percent chance of living.

The report also noted the most dangerous intersections throughout Pinellas County for so-called “vulnerable users” — pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists. Six of the 14 intersections were along U.S. 19. Intersections on East Bay Drive, at Starkey Road, and on I-275 at Gandy Blvd. were also noted.

“For each of these intersections, we should have at least three suggestions to improve the operation of that intersection,” said the MPO Board’s Dave Eggers, who also serves on the Pinellas County Board of Commissioners. “I also think there’s got to be a way to let our residents know [about the dangers of these spots].”

MPO Board member and Pinellas County Commissioner Karen Seel then reminded the room how well the local media had worked during a similar situation in the past:

“Going back in history, when we had a lot of publicity about U.S. 19 in the newspapers, the crash rates dropped dramatically,” said Seel. “As well as the pedestrian injuries […] so maybe we partner with the newspapers and TV stations to see if we can get some free PSAs to just keep highlighting it.

Devon Crumpacker is a Tampa Bay based writer and reporter for Extensive Enterprises Media. He primarily covers Pinellas County politics for SaintPetersblog.com, but also makes time to write the occasional bar review for FloridaBarTab.com. He lives in St. Petersburg with his fiance, Sydney. To contact, e-mail devon@floridapolitics.com, or visit his Twitter page @DevonCrumpacker.

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