State officials are hoping fewer lives will be lost in Iowa next year due to fires or traffic crashes.
audio: Pat Curtis report (:62)
The number of traffic fatalities in Iowa in 2012 is expected to end up slightly higher than last year. Patrick Hoye is director of the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau. “In 2011, we recorded a fatality count of 360, which was as low as the count had been since World War Two,” Hoye says.
As of last week, Iowa had 357 traffic deaths in 2012. That was 14 ahead of the same time last year. “When you look at 2012 and the increase (in traffic fatalities), there are several things we feel can still be done to drive down the fatality rate and we’ll be looking to work on that in 2013,” Hoye says.
Hoye, the former head of the Iowa State Patrol, is suggesting the state must find ways to keep Iowans from using cell phones while they’re behind the wheel. Hoye believes “distracted” driving is a “highly under-reported” cause of many fatal crashes.
While Iowa has one of the highest seatbelt compliance rates in the nation, at 93%, Hoye says dozens of lives may’ve been saved this year had motorists buckled up. “We still have about 40-percent of our fatalities unbuckled,” Hoye says. “So, there’s a clear correlation…if you wear your seatbelt, your chances of surviving a crash are greatly increased. That’s one of the things we hope to change in 2013 is getting more people to buckle up. We believe by doing that simple act, we will save lives in Iowa.”
State Fire Marshal Ray Reynolds says at least 46 lives were lost this year in Iowa because of fires. That’s up from 42 a year ago. Reynolds notes the numbers were “skewed” a bit this year because several fire fatalities were attributed to automobiles or small planes catching fire. “I guess on the positive side that means there are fewer structure fires, but in the end, the number is still the number and we’re certainly disappointed that it’s not much, much lower,” Reynolds says.
Since he took office in April 2010, Reynolds has led an effort to keep track of the number of Iowans who’ve escaped burning buildings because of a working smoke alarm. More than 200 lives may’ve been saved this year. “Right now, we’re sitting at 222 people who are alive today to see 2013 as a result of having a smoke alarm in their home,” Reynolds says.
One of the biggest tragedies in Iowa in 2012 occurred in the small town of Lake City. Four members of a family, including three children, were killed in a house fire there in October. The home did not have a working smoke alarm.
Earlier this month, Reynolds was in Lake City and joined several volunteers in a door-to-door effort to hand out and install smoke detectors. Reynolds says, of the 600 homes visited, only 10 had functioning alarms. “Any community that we’ve been in, installing smoke alarms in, that’s really about the statistic that’s very common,” Reynolds says. “We only see about 10-percent of the homes in our state have adequate smoke alarms with working batteries. So, there’s a message there that we’ve got to get out and do a much better job of doing it.”