The Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT), Rhode Island State Police and Rhode Island Department of Health today announced that fatalities due to motor vehicle crashes are down in the Ocean State, beating nationally trending data in which fatalities are increasing. Over the past five years, the number of lives lost on Rhode Island roadways has decreased, with preliminary data for 2015 recording the lowest number to date of 45 fatalities.
"One life lost is too many. One life equates to one family. One family equates to an entire community. Saving lives and reducing serious injuries remains a very important component of the work we do at RIDOT," said RIDOT Director Peter Alviti Jr. "However, while we are pleased to see the numbers trending downward, we continue to work to reduce these needless and preventable deaths and serious injuries on our state highways."
Of the 45 fatalities that occurred in Rhode Island in 2015, the majority were motor vehicle occupants, nine were riding motorcycles and eight were pedestrians. Working with the State Police and local law enforcement, educating Rhode Islanders has helped, the Department reports. RIDOT statistics show that roadway fatalities have been on a consistent decline. In 2010 Rhode Island reported 67 fatalities, in 2011 there were 66, and in 2012 another 64 people were killed. Although the state saw a slight increase in 2013 with 65 fatalities, the number of victims was reduced to 51 in 2014.
"The success of our highway safety goal to eliminate fatal crashes and serious injuries statewide relies on our collaboration with several stakeholders and state leaders," Colonel Steven G. O'Donnell of the RI State Police said. "The Rhode Island State Police actively promote strong prevention messaging, traffic engineering solutions, public education, and vigilant law enforcement patrols. The collaboration with RIDOT's leadership and traffic engineering experts on the problems of fatal wrong-way crashes resulted in an immediate intervention strategy that we believe is saving lives."
Wearing a seat belt remains the best line of defense against injury or death when in a crash. RIDOT has witnessed a distinct correlation between the decrease in roadway fatalities and the primary seat belt law, originally enacted in 2011. The most recent survey in 2015 found seat belt usage at an all-time high of 87 percent. In Rhode Island, 57 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities were unbuckled. Nationally, nearly half of the motor vehicle occupants who died in crashes were not buckled up.
Distracted driving is another major concern in motor vehicle crashes. Texting while driving is reported to be a factor in 25 percent of crashes nationwide. Motorists talking on a handheld mobile device face a 300 percent increase in the risk of getting into a crash. The risk for a crash skyrockets to a 2,400 percent increase from texting while driving.
"We have made many life-saving gains through legislation as a result of the strong leadership of our partners, such as the Department of Transportation, public health stakeholders, and elected officials," said Director of Health, Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH. "Child passenger safety laws requiring children to be restrained, speeding laws, and the most recent primary seat belt law are responsible for preventing hundreds of deaths each year. We have more work to do, but our accomplishments to date have saved lives."
Most disturbing is that impaired driving still accounts for a third of the state's highway fatalities. Nationally, an alcohol-related fatality occurs every 51 minutes and young adults are most often at risk.
With a focus on eliminating this destructive behavior in Rhode Island, RIDOT is partnering with the Rhode Island State Police to develop a dedicated Impaired Driving Prevention Alliance. They will work on creating a broad-based coalition comprised of members of the law enforcement community, RIDOT, the Department of Health and other state agencies, treatment and prevention specialists, business leaders, media experts, community safety advocates, medical professionals, as well as the court system, which will focus on targeting the goal of zero fatalities related to impaired driving. The group will work to encourage better driving behavior – with the goal of not only reaching the offenders but those who influence their decision-making processes.
"The bottom line," Alviti said, "is that crashes caused by driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol are 100 percent preventable. My administration will be actively seeking increased sanctions and better education to substantially reduce DUI related deaths and injuries in our state."
Contact: Charles St. Martin (401) 222-1362, Ext. 4007