Tracking crashes

Data from motor vehicle accidents in the Webster County area from the past year shows a decline in one type of accident, but an increase in another.

In 2012, the Iowa State Patrol reported an overall decrease in car accidents, but an increase in the number of fatal accidents in its seven-county area.

Lt. Kelly Hindman, Iowa State Patrol District 7 commander, said that, in all, there were 17 accidents that led to 19 people being killed in 2012, which includes nine fatalities in Webster County.

Hindman attributed the decline in overall accidents to the warmer weather from last year.

“We had extremely mild weather conditions last year,” he said. “Because of that, we didn’t have to deal with all the wintertime crashes.”

He said crashes don’t necessarily refer to serious accidents. The State Patrol includes minor accidents, such as people sliding into ditches and cars slipping on ice, in its crash reports.

While the number of fatal accidents increased, Hindman said part of the reason for that is because 2011 was a record low year for fatalities.

“Because of that, our measuring stick was low,” he said.

Hindman said there’s no common trend with all the fatalities, but statewide troopers have noticed an increase in motorcycle-involved accidents.

“You normally have people only riding motorcycles in the summer,” Hindman said. “But because 2012 was such a mild year, you had motorcyclists out from January through November.”

It’s believed that a contributing factor in motorcycle-related fatalities is because Iowa doesn’t require helmets.

However, Hindman added that it wasn’t what caused all the fatal accidents.

“I’d love to say there’s an issue or two that we can attribute to these crashes, but we can’t,” he said. “There’s no pattern. Sometimes we see people ignoring stop signs, but that doesn’t apply to all fatalities.”

Investigators suspect distracted drivers may be a common thread among fatalities, but Hindman said that’s difficult to prove.

“We have a reasonable degree of certainty distractions cause these accidents,” he said. “But they’re hard to prove because of a number of factors, including time. The time we get dispatched and the time the accident happen might be off by a few minutes, because not every clock is exactly the same.”

While there is state legislation that bans the use of electronic devices while driving, Hindman said you can’t pass laws banning every type of distraction.

“There’s a list a mile long of distractions, but I put electronic devices in their own class,” he said. “They create a significant distraction for long periods of time, especially if someone is texting or checking their email.”

Other fatalities have resulted when passengers in a back seat don’t wear seat belts.

“They don’t wear them because they’re not required,” Hindman said. “The driver and front seat passengers wear them because it’s the law, but people in the back aren’t wearing them when they should be.”

Hindman said so far this year there have been no fatal accidents in the seven-county area that District 7 covers.

“We’re hopeful it’ll stay that way for awhile because the weather doesn’t seem to indicate any big storms on the horizon,” he said. “It’s helpful in that regard, because it brings down both our total accidents and the number of fatalities.”