State and local officials working to reduce highway accidents

By Megan Harrell
Star Staff

Tennessee's Department of Transportation has released statistics as part of a campaign to reduce the number of accidents on the state's highways. The Governor's Highway Safety Office believes it has made progress in increasing highway safety statewide, but knows it has a far way to go.
   In 2000 there were a total of 1,498 automobile accidents in Carter County. A total of 381 accidents involved injuries and 10 of those resulted in death. Alcohol was a factor in only 1 percent of all accidents on record in Carter County in 2000. "We have stricter laws. Now when you get caught driving on a revoked license we seize your vehicle," Carter County Sheriff John Henson said. "It is putting the fear of God into people and we need that. We need to get the DUI's off the road."
   Carter falls in the middle with its number of fatal accidents per year when compared to other counties in Tennessee. However, it is surrounded by Sullivan, Washington, Greene and Cocke counties which were among counties with the highest number of fatal accidents in 2000.
   Sheriff Henson attributes Carter County's lower number of fatal accidents to an increase in the number of officers on patrol. "We have four officers split into three zones for every shift looking for speeders and law violators," Sheriff Henson said. "I feel we are safer because we have better roads and are better equipped than before. We did not have cameras or radar in our vehicles and now 95 percent of our cars have cameras and we have some that are equipped with radar."
   Grant money has allowed Carter County to increase its number of officers on the road which helps to control the number of accidents, but patrol officers have a large task in front of them. "We have more law enforcement on the road, which is a plus, but we have a lot more traffic now too. The more traffic there is, the more problems you are going to have with accidents," Sheriff Henson said.
   Work zone violators are being cracked down on heavily by local law enforcement as well. In July, construction zone violation fines were increased significantly. Those caught speeding through work zones in Carter County now will be charged between $413 and $350, depending on what the judge determines. All work zone violators are required to appear in court. The increase in fines has been steady over the past few years as deaths in work zones continue to climb across the state.
   The state is looking to new public awareness campaigns to assist local law enforcement in securing the highways. The fact that Tennessee is 10th in the nation for the total number of fatal traffic incidents per year has spurred the Governor's Highway Safety Office into introducing new programs. Its Click It or Ticket seat belt campaign and You Drink & Drive You Lose efforts have been implemented by law enforcement statewide. Tennessee saw a 20 percent increase in seat belt use in the first year of the campaigns and hopes for similar results with its impaired driving program.
   Both state officials and local law enforcement believe that fatal accidents are tragedies that can be avoided. "Car crashes are not random acts of God," Arthur Victorine, director of the Governor's Highway Safety Office said. "They are preventable. Strong laws, responsible behavior, and enforcement produces positive outcomes."