The good news is fatal traffic crashes are down in Sarasota County, Florida, compared to two and three years ago. The bad news is Sarasota car accidents in general are still on the rise.
According to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, Sarasota County’s fatal traffic crash numbers from 2014 forward are as follows:
- 2014: 31 crashes with fatalities
- 2015: 54 crashes with fatalities
- 2016: 63 crashes with fatalities
- 2017: 41 crashes with fatalities
- 2018: 12 crashes with fatalities (as of May 3)
According to Florida’s Integrated Report Exchange System (FIRE), the year 2018 could continue this downward trend starting in 2016. Bicycle fatalities and pedestrian fatalities are also down, with bicycle fatalities showing the largest drop since 2014. There were four bicycle fatalities in 2014, yet only two in 2017 and one to date, this year.)
The total number of crashes, however, is on the rise, and the number to date in 2018 shows no sign of reversing the trend:
- 2014: 5,478 total crashes
- 2015: 5,887 total crashes
- 2016: 6,571 total crashes
- 2017: 6,623 total crashes
- 2018: 2,334 total crashes (to date
Texting while driving
Texting while driving may account for these increases, at least in part. A recent article from the South Florida Sun Sentinel found that, while total traffic crashes increased 11 percent from 2013 to 2016, crashes from careless driving incidents increased by four times that rate:
- Failing to maintain one’s lane, up 50 percent
- Failure to stop at stop sign, up 48 percent
- Sideswiping vehicle, same direction of travel, up 40 percent
- Improper passing, up 47 percent
- Ignoring road signs or markings, up 34 percent
Smart phone use may be under reported in such incidents. Police typically do not note it in reports unless someone dies in the crash. In addition, drivers rarely confess texting while driving to police officers. Law enforcement officers anecdotally reported seeing more people using smart phones while driving.
Florida law regarding texting while driving is among the most lenient in the nation. Texting while driving in Florida is a secondary offense: an officer cannot stop a motorist for texting; he or she must see some other primary offense first to make the stop. While the Florida Legislature is considering a bill to make texting while driving a primary offense, critics say it does not do enough.
First offenses will still be non-moving violations garnering only a $30.00 fine, and police will still need to obtain a search warrant to search the phone for evidence of texting while driving. The new law’s penalties will remain light when compared to a state such as Oregon, which recently increased its first-time penalties to $1,000 if no crash occurred and $2,500 if a crash occurred. Id.
An older article from the Palm Beach Post suggests that more drivers on the road may be the cause. The increase in drivers is linked to economic recovery from the “Great Recession.” The article also links the increase in crashes to the drop in gasoline prices in recent years. Citing statistics from the National Safety Council, the article notes that, as of the third quarter 2016, Florida was hit hardest with traffic fatalities, with “an estimated 43 percent increase in fatalities since the first half of 2014. Comparing FIRE’s “Total Traffic Fatalities” for Sarasota County from 2014 and 2016 (31 and 68, respectively) the percentage increase is 119 percent.
Other possible causes
Another recent article noted as other possible causes is the increase in drivers, poor weather conditions, driving while distracted, and Florida’s high concentration of drivers over the age of 65, remarking that “the number of drivers over 65 in car accidents was almost double that of drivers between the ages of 15-19.”
An independent review of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ 2016 Annual Report suggests that conclusion may be skewed by the fact that “the amount of drivers over 65” covers a much larger age range than “ages . . . 15-19”. It is worth noting however that, for the year 2016, and comparing the 65-69 age bracket to the 15-17 bracket, one notes a 48 percent increase in non-injury accidents and a 180 percent increase in accidents resulting in an incapacitating injury.
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