Multitasking is something everyone does. We do this even while driving and rarely think that it could be dangerous. When we drive, most of us don’t think it poses a danger to our lives, mainly because we can drive for years and never have an accident – until we do. Maybe when that happens it will just be an accident with property damage, but maybe it will be a death.
As of this writing, our County Road Safety Board, at our December meeting, discussed the accident statistics in Franklin County for 2021 – the statistics are not reassuring. Assuming no one else died in an accident in our county in 2021, we will end the year with nine dead and over 350 people injured. The nine people killed in car crashes in Franklin County in 2021 are the highest number in the past 10 years, even though we drive fewer miles from COVID, and our cars are much safer than ever , given the new technological safety features that have been introduced over the past 10 years, such as lane departure control, automatic braking, blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and many more. But we are probably driving faster and speed kills.
Nine deaths in a county of 50,000 inhabitants, a rate of 18 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. By comparison, Clinton County, with a population of 80,500, had recorded just five deaths as of early December, a rate of just 6 per 100,000, one-third the rate for Franklin County. St. Lawrence County, with 11 deaths and a population of 107,500, is 10 per 100,000. For Essex County, their 2 deaths in a county with 37,500 have a death rate of 5 per 100,000. Why is Franklin County’s death rate this year so much higher than the surrounding counties? Are we worse conductors than our neighbors?
Escalating death rates are not just a Franklin County problem, it is a nationwide problem. Looking at Wikipedia’s historical accident data, from 1900 deaths nationwide were less than 100 per year until 1903, when they reached 117. In 1909, motor vehicle deaths were over 1,000 per year, and essentially continued to increase until 1972, when they peaked at 54,589. From 1972 to 2015, the number of deaths continued its downward trend, falling to a low of 32,479 in 2011, the lowest in 62 years (since 1949). For 2016 in particular, data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shows that 37,461 people were killed in 34,436 traffic accidents, an average of 102 per day. The most dangerous period for motor vehicle fatalities in the United States was from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, with 50 to 55,000 deaths per year.
Complacency is a major factor in motor vehicle accidents. Almost everyone drives or rides somewhere everyday. The more we complete a task, whether it’s driving, working, skiing, swimming or really anything, without incident, the more complacent we become. Driving a motor vehicle is so commonplace that one rarely thinks of the fact that at any moment it could be fatal. Complacency and driving do not mix, just as alcohol consumption, drug use or multitasking while driving does not mix.
Statistics don’t lie. Deaths in Franklin County jumped dramatically in 2021, with nine deaths, down from just two in 2020 and 2019. The 10-year average in our county is four or five. Hopefully the deaths in 2021 are an aberration for whatever reason, and we’ll do a much better job of driving safely in 2022.