Louisiana News

Louisiana officials devise safety plan after record number of auto crashes in 2021


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(The Center Square) — The Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development announced a new Strategic Highway Safety Plan this week following a record increase in fatal crashes in 2021.

Preliminary data shows a total of 971 people died in motor vehicle crashes in Louisiana last year, a 17% increase from the 828 fatalities in 2020. The jump marked the highest year-to-year percentage increase in fatal crashes since Louisiana started tracking the statistic, Gov. John Bel Edwards said.

"The statistics are alarming," said Gov. Edwards on Wednesday. "The loss of nearly 1,000 motorists on our roadways is devastating and a number that desperately needs to decrease and be nonexistent one day. With the safety strategies implemented by our agencies and safety partners, we aim to make all Louisiana public roads safer — where no one is killed or seriously injured in traffic-related crashes."

Edwards and Department of Transportation and Development Secretary Shawn Wilson highlighted the increase in traffic deaths as an important influence on an updated Strategic Highway Safety Plan unveiled Wednesday.

The plan, updated every five years, identifies emphasis areas, strategies and tactics for reducing fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads, using input from driver behavior safety experts, engineers, law enforcement, emergency service providers and advocacy groups.

Data on contributing factors associated with fatalities and injuries led officials to focus on specific areas when updating the plan, including distracted driving, impaired driving, occupant protection, and infrastructure and operations, which involves things like lane departures, intersections and non-motorized users, according to an Edwards statement.

The plan implements strategies, focused on older and younger drivers, aimed at addressing those issues through policies, programs and projects designed to reduce crashes. The strategies are also tailored to target solutions to specific geographic areas and demographics.

"The safety of our roadways and our motorists is of the utmost importance of this Department and this Safety Plan provides quantitative data for strategies on improving the safety conditions throughout the state," Wilson said. "With the support of the Governor and our partners on the federal, state, and local levels, we continue to work towards eliminating traffic-related deaths and injuries. One death is one too many and it is our goal to reduce the number of crashes and severe injuries by 50% by 2030."

Strategies in the updated plan call for increasing education efforts and community outreach programs, strengthening laws and public policies on risky behaviors like distracted driving, increasing accountability, developing and deploying engineering solutions for crash-prone corridors, and more CarFit technicians to improve child passenger safety.

Louisiana Highway Safety Commission Executive Director Lisa Freeman described risky driving behavior as a preventable public health epidemic, and the solution centers on encouraging drivers to make the right choices.

"Unsafe driving behavior doesn’t just happen. It’s a choice — a choice between driving sober or driving impaired; a choice between driving focused or driving distracted; a choice of buckling up and driving the speed limit or being unrestrained and speeding," Freeman said. "We urge everyone to make the right choice — the only choice that gives us a chance at safely arriving at our destinations."

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