It appears that 2008 produced fewer traffic fatalities in Iowa than any year since 2004. Preliminary figures show there were 406 people killed in traffic crashes last year. Scott Falb, with the Iowa Department of Transportation, anticipates the final number will end up being between 410 and 415.
The decline in traffic fatals occurred during a year of extremely severe weather, with flooding, ice storms and heavy snow. Falb credits weather forecasters for notifying motorists about the approaching storms. "What seems to cause motorists the most problems is when the severity of the event is unknown or catches people off guard and unaware," Falb said.
The recession and record high gas prices this spring and summer also contributed to the decrease in traffic fatals, since fewer motorists were on the road. Traffic fatals were especially low in the months of March, April and May. "Even in July, we had 30 fatalities when normally we have closer to 50," Falb said.
The most recent survey indicates that nearly 93-percent of Iowa motorists wear a seat belt, but less than 40-percent of the people killed in traffic crashes are buckled up. Falb says that tells him that motorists who wear a seat belt have a much better chance of surviving a crash.
"But, number two, the fact that people buckle up often changes their driving behavior," Falb said. "The act of buckling up means they’re seeing the risks out on the road differently than those that don’t buckle up." In 2007, there were 446 traffic fatalities in Iowa. Over the last decade, the fewest traffic fatalities, 388, occurred in 2004. Of the 406 fatals recorded so far in 2008, about 20-percent involved alcohol and 54 of the fatals involved motorcycles.