Deaths on Louisiana roads plunged 20 percent in recent years, and fatal crashes are down 28 percent, according to officials and a new state report.
The state experienced 651 fatal crashes in 2013, down from 900 in 2007, according to figures included in a report issued Thursday by the state Department of Transportation and Development.
Injury crashes fell 10 percent during the same period.
In addition, DOTD Secretary Sherri LeBas told a meeting of engineers that road deaths fell from 916 in 2008 to 737 last year.
While crash rates in Louisiana are above the national average, the improvements are in line with national trends.
Most of the figures were compiled by LSU and from state crash reports.
They are part of the lengthy Louisiana Statewide Transportation Plan, which is sort of a wish list of road and bridge projects the state implements if money becomes available.
Despite the gains, there is much room for improvement in preventing crashes caused by distracted driving, according to the report.
The state has a ban on using cellphones and texting while driving.
DOTD officials said the state needs $178 million to tackle safety issues, including $127 million focusing on railroad crossings.
LeBas said that since 2008, state spending for highway safety has risen from $37.5 million to $70.7 million, including 209 miles of cable barriers and 2,100 miles of centerline rumble strips.
Speeding was a factor in at least 27 percent of traffic fatalities in 2013, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration study released in July.
Kenneth Trull, deputy director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission, said Friday that increased safety belt usage is one of the key reasons for the drop in fatalities in recent years.
The usage rate is 85.9 percent this year, compared with 74.5 percent in 2009, a 15 percent increase.
“For the last seven years, we have had statistically significant improvements in seat belt usage,” Trull said.
The national average is 87 percent.
Even with the gains since 2007, there are troubling signs.
Fatal crashes rose 2 percent in 2014, and fatalities are up 5.1 percent, according to the commission.
Trull said that while one year is not a good predictor, steps are needed to continue the recent trend of declining fatalities.
Aside from more seat belt usage, the state needs fewer alcohol-related traffic deaths, including among young drivers who helped cause the increase in fatalities last year, he said.
Trull said 42 percent of fatalities involve alcohol.
“That number has held pretty consistent,” he said.
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