Idaho records highest number of road fatalities in 15 years in 2021

After declining for four consecutive years, the number of road fatalities in Idaho peaked in 15 years in 2021, according to data from the Idaho Department of Transportation.

Preliminary data indicates that as of Thursday, there had been at least 258 people killed in crashes this year, the highest number since 2006. In 2020, 214 people died in traffic crashes.

Since 2016, when 253 deaths were recorded, the figure had declined each year before rising again in 2021.

Not all of the year’s data has been formally analyzed by the ITD, said Bill Kotowski, head of grants at the Bureau of Highway Safety.

“A lot of people think it has something to do with the pandemic,” he told the Idaho Statesman by phone. “For the record, if you talk to some of our law enforcement partners… people are stepping up further, we hear that drug addiction was a problem during the pandemic. These are some of the first (hints) of what people think is going on, but until we can really dive in and get a solid look at some research, it’s hard to pinpoint a cause or another at this point.

And it’s not just Idaho that is seeing an increase in deaths.

The U.S. Department of Transportation reported earlier this year that the first six months of 2021 saw the the largest increase on record in the number of people who have died in motor vehicle accidents, with 18.4% more deaths than those recorded during the same period in 2020.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, part of the Department of Transportation, also reported that incidents of speeding and driving without a seat belt were higher than in pre-pandemic years.

Between 2016 and 2020, 36% of all fatal crashes in Idaho were related to impaired driving, according to ITD data. Until December 15, Idaho State Police this year charged 1,453 people with criminal offenses related to impaired driving.

Last weekend, officers arrested 30 drivers for impaired driving in Ada and Canyon counties as part of a two-week effort to increase DUI patrols, according to a police press release of the state of Idaho.

“People make safer choices when there are (fewer) deaths,” Kotowski said. “If you drive and put aside your distractions, or if you drive sober, you wear your seat belt, you increase your chances of getting home safely.”

Impaired driving typically accounts for a disproportionate proportion of vehicle-related deaths. In 2020, ITD statistics showed that 7% of crashes involved impaired drivers, but 43% of fatal crashes involved impaired drivers.

Kotowski said law enforcement is still looking for impaired drivers this month in an effort to make the roads safer.

“We’re talking about it at a high level in the form of trends and stats, but these are really people who are loved, these are people who have families, they have friends, they have careers,” Kotowski said. “They have dreams, they have hopes, and unfortunately these things are happening on our roads and it’s up to all of us to work together to eliminate distractions on the road (and) to drive well.”

Preliminary data also shows two bicycle-related deaths this year, up from three in 2020. Twelve pedestrians were killed, up from 14 last year.

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