About 440 Iowans died on the roadways last year. Department of Transportation Driver Safety Specialist Scott Falb keeps the figures and interprets them, and says the count won’t be finalized till around the end of March, when every report has been sent in and anyone who died within 30 days of a crash has been added to the fatality count. But he already sees some trends.
The number of crashes involving a single vehicle is a “rising tide,” he says. Fifty-sic-percent of fatal crashes on interstates, state highways and county roads last year involved only one car, that left the road, rolled over, hit a fixed object and proved deadly for Iowans. New design and road-building techniques have made the roads themselves safer, with fewer sharp curves and dead-ends.
Another factor’s also helped, according to Falb. Since lowering the blood-alcohol level to point-oh-eight percent for legal intoxication, Iowa’s seen the drunk-driving rate fall from over 120 a few years ago to around 80 in recent years, and it’ll probably be that low in 2006 when those figures are complete. Drunk-driving used to make up a big part of the state’s fatal crashes, and the figures improved so much, Falb says it “almost looked too good.” So he looked at how many of the drivers in fatal wrecks are tested for alcohol.
In the mid 1990s the state tested many of the drivers involved in fatal crashes, and by 1999 was testing 49-percent of them for blood-alcohol. Then the number went down, however, and by 2004 only one-quarter of the drivers in fatal crashes were tested to see if they’d been drinking. “So we’re testing fewer drivers and of course we’re finding fewer,” Falb says. “I’ve gotta wonder if part of it is that we’re just not looking closely enough at our drivers to know if our alcohol numbers have really gone down as much as it appears they have.”
He says it’s clear there is less social acceptance for drunk drivers, and more public transportation, “drunk bus” programs and ways to see that if people have been drinking, they won’t drive.