What’s with all the traffic crashes here lately? - Republic-Times | News

What’s with all the traffic crashes here lately?

By on September 5, 2012 at 1:23 pm
aug 6 crash Gall Road JUMP

Pictured is the Mazda that lost control and crashed in the area of 8081 Gall Road in rural Waterloo on Aug. 6. (Corey Saathoff photo)


For the Republic- Times

As you’ve seen in this paper over the past couple of months, there has been an alarming amount of serious vehicle crashes occurring in Monroe County. Two head-on crashes on Route 3 just days apart in late July resulted in four total deaths. Another crash on Aug. 6 resulted in the death of a female Waterloo High School student.

“This year, there has been a 40 percent increase in accident fatalities in Monroe County from the same time last year,” stated Illinois State Police Trooper Mike Link. “The five-year average in the county for fatal accidents is over 100 percent.”

The top four causes of serious vehicle accidents in the county can be contributed to speeding, DUI, distracted driving and failure to wear a seatbelt.

Waterloo Police Chief James Trantham, Columbia Police Chief Joe Edwards, Monroe County Sheriff Dan Kelley and ISP Trooper Link all agree on one thing: drivers need to start paying attention and slow down.

“I have been a police officer for 32 years, and 99 percent of the time accidents are caused because drivers are not paying attention,” Chief Trantham said. “The greatest contributing factor to vehicle accidents is human error.”

Chief Edwards agreed, adding that in the case of a recent accident involving a bicyclist in his city, “pedestrians crossing the road are not paying attention.”

One form of distracted driving that is leading to more accidents is cell phone usage.  When a driver is talking on a cell phone, they are four times more likely to be in an accident than a drunk driver, and eight times more likely to cause an accident when texting on a cell phone.

Multi-tasking is not meant to take place behind the wheel, the law enforcement officials said.  A driver’s number one priority should be the road.

“Most traffic accidents in our area happen because drivers are going too fast for road conditions,” Sheriff Kelley said.

In Columbia, there has been a 118 percent increase in red light violation citations since last year, Edwards said. Unfortunately, the State of Illinois will not approve the installation of safety cameras at any major intersections in Monroe County.

On Route 3, there has been an increase in speeding over the past year. Drivers have been clocked and ticketed going as fast as 80 to 100 miles per hour. The reduction of the speed limit on Route 3 a few years ago from 65 to 55 miles per hour has controlled speeding to some extent, but it has not helped to prevent it.

“We live in a society that is much different then what it was 20 years ago,” Edwards said. “There is a lot of anger in people, leading to more aggressive driving habits.”

When it comes to the rural roads in the county, drivers need to remember that those roads were not designed for excessive speeding. More attention needs to be paid when driving on the outlying roadways in both good and poor conditions.

“People are driving on the rural roads faster than what they can control,” Kelley said.

Each law enforcement agency is aware and concerned by the increase of fatal accidents in Monroe County, and said they are taking steps toward prevention.

Edwards said that in 2008, there were fewer traffic crashes in Columbia than in the early 1990’s.

“The problem we face now is that money and resources are low,” he explained. “The goal is to have 17 officers with one full time traffic officer. But right now, the city only has 13 officers.”

Pictured is the JEEP that was hit and flipped on Tuesday off of Admiral Trost Rd. near Walgreens in Columbia. (Teryn Schaefer photo)

Each police agency in the county has moving radars in all of its patrol vehicles. To help prevent speeding in the county, each agency is doing its part to reduce the problem.

The Monroe County Sheriff’s Department will spot check areas throughout the county to help slow the speeders down.

In Waterloo, officers run radar daily in both residential and school areas.

Columbia is trying to put more officers on the street with grant money.

And the ISP is cracking down on speeding by keeping track of where accidents are occurring and increasing police presence in those locations.

The municipal and state agencies are working together closely to reduce the occurrence of accidents, but citizens have also been helping law enforcement catch speeders and intoxicated drivers by immediately reporting drivers with cell phone call-ins.

Also, Columbia now has an officer specifically trained to re-create traffic accidents, which will help to more quickly determine why the accidents are occurring.  The reconstructions will be able to further determine what major factors need to be focused on for prevention, Edwards said.

Teen driving

Monroe County has experienced an increase in teen driving fatalities.

“It’s a terrible thing when we lose anyone, especially youth, but we’ve had some terrible accidents lately,” Trantham said. “I just encourage people to pay attention. Driving becomes second hand and we lose focus.”

The ISP offers safety programs to local high schools. In the safe driving classes, there is a focus on how to prevent teen distracted driving.

“Teen drivers have a mentality that they are indestructible,” Trantham said.

Before prom, the Waterloo Police Department presents a “mock crash” safety re-enactment for high school students, which  involves Arch Air Medical Services, the coroner’s office, fire personnel and EMS.

Columbia High School plays a safety video randomly throughout the school year and an officer talks to students about the importance of safe driving.

“Accidents involving younger drivers are a result of inexperience, distracted driving and over-correction,” Kelley said.

The State of Illinois offers an Operation Teen Safe Driving program led by IDOT’s Division of Traffic Safety. The program, in its sixth year, is the first of its kind across the nation.

The program has contributed to a 48 percent decline in teen fatalities over the past five years.

The OTSD program enables high schools to apply for a grant to initiate a peer-led teen safe driving program within their schools. The schools in the program then compete against each other within their region for one of the top five winning spots.

The winners receive money to use towards their post-prom event and are invited to participate in the Ford Motor Company Fund’s “Driving Skills for Life” ride and drive events.

Applications are available now online at www.teensafedrivingillinois.org and are due by Oct. 1.

Teryn Schaefer

Teryn was born and raised in Waterloo, growing up watching local sports and Mon-Clair baseball. She is a graduate of the University of Missouri Journalism School and loves cheering on her Tigers any chance she gets.