By DON O'BRIENHerald-Whig Staff Writer
Illinois State Police Trooper Mike Kindhart thinks drivers are starting to get the message.
Kindhart, the safety education officer for the State Police Pittsfield-based District 20, believes that roads in the district are getting safer. He cited tough enforcement policies and better education as the main reason why some key traffic statistics were down in 2012.
"I think we are seeing a difference here locally," Kindhart said.
Kindhart said troopers arrested fewer people in 2012 for driving under the influence in District 20, which includes Adams, Brown, Pike, Schuyler and Scott counties. Troopers made 112 DUI arrests during the year.
Another positive, Kindhart said, was the fact that alcohol played a factor in only two of the district's 11 fatalities last year. He said alcohol usually is a factor in 40 to 50 percent of fatal accidents. Of those who died in the 2012 fatal accidents, 40 percent were not wearing safety belts. Provisional statistics show that fewer than 1,000 people died in traffic crashes statewide in 2012. The five-year fatal crash average in District 20 is 9.4 fatalities a year.
Kindhart said the district saw a huge jump in the number of tickets that were issued for distracted driving. There were 173 distracted driving arrests made in 2012, a 75 percent increase from the district's 2011 totals. The State Police have made curtailing distracted driving one of its main initiatives.
"For the last two years, we've been really focused on it," Kindhart said. "The law changes for construction zones and school zones. It became a lot hotter topic. And we've been dealing with a lot more crashes with distracted driving than we have in the past."
Distracted driving is one of what the State Police consider the fatal four citations, along with DUIs, speeding and seat belt violations. Fatal four citations made up 79.1 percent of all tickets issued by District 20 troopers last year.
Troopers made 484 criminal arrests in District 20 along with 104 underage drinking arrests. Troopers inspected 796 commercial vehicles, and 192 commercial motor vehicles or their drivers were placed out of service for safety reasons. Troopers made 1,168 calls on motorist assists for the year.