The number of driving-related fatalities in Rhode Island dropped 20 percent this year down from 65 in 2013 to 52 in 2014. The marked drop reflects a continued decline in fatalities from a high of 104 in 2003, representing a 100 percent decline, and is the lowest number of motor vehicle fatalities since 1994. Data based on available information at time of announcement.
Of particular note was the significant decline in fatalities of young drivers age 16 to 24. This age group has steadily declined over the past five years from 22 fatalities in 2009 to eight fatalities in 2014.
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin also announced that seatbelt use is up in Rhode Island. According to statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 87.4 percent of all Rhode Islanders report using their seatbelt every time they get into a motor vehicle in 2014, compared to just over 75 percent in 2004.
The last decade saw a remake of the landscape in the ways that parents, teens, school officials, state policymakers and safety advocates confront issues with this young, vulnerable group of drivers killing and injuring themselves and others on the state’s roads and highways.
Rhode Island has long been a leader in enacting laws that promote safety on the roads. The State adopted a Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) for young drivers in 1998. Rhode Island’s GDL statute allows young drivers to safely gain driving experience before obtaining full driving privileges and includes additional prohibitions on cell phone use.
In 2009, Rhode Island passed its first ban on texting and driving. In 2011, the General Assembly passed the primary seatbelt law, and in 2013 lifted the sunset provision originally attached to the statute, allowing Rhode Island to receive millions in federal funds dedicated to seat belt enforcement and education campaigns.
“Our state leaders should be commended for enacting smart, tough driving laws,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, who when serving as a state representative sponsored the State’s ban on texting and driving. “The statistics show that our driving laws are having positive results.”
"The reductions in fatalities are a direct result of the cumulative efforts by all through increased targeted enforcement (mapping fatal accidents), frequent public messaging on DUI arrests, school education programs (It Can Wait) and coordinated enforcement efforts. We still have a long way to go in an effort to continue our efforts in saving lives,” said Colonel Steven G. O'Donnell, Superintendent of the Rhode Island State Police and Director of the Rhode Island Department of Public Safety.
According to the Rhode Island State Police, enforcement efforts and highway safety campaigns have increased in the past several years. In 2013, the State Police conducted 10 campaigns including Click It or Ticket, Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over and other speed and DUI enforcement efforts. That number increased to 12 campaigns in 2014.
The number of driving citations has also increased in recent years. In 2013, the State Police issued 7,690 seat belt citations, as compared to 9,458 in 2014, representing a 23 percent increase. DUI arrests by the State Police were relatively the same both years, with 561 arrests in 2013 as compared to 534 in 2014. Data on seatbelt citations and DUI arrests provided by the Rhode Island State Police. Statewide data for 2014 is not yet available.
Texting while driving citations also saw a significant increase. In 2013, the Rhode Island State Police issued 144 citations for texting while driving, as compared to 317 citations in 2014, an increase of 120 percent. Statewide, police issued 911 citations for texting while driving in 2014, as compared to 384 citations issued in 2013, an increase of 137 percent.
“The increase in violations is not an indicator that more individuals are breaking the law, but rather represents an increase in enforcement efforts. It is very likely that the increase in citations and arrests has a direct correlation to the decrease of fatalities by stopping individuals before they cause a motor vehicle accident,” added Kilmartin.
To complement strong laws, there are many educational programs aimed at younger drivers to raise awareness of the dangers and consequences of driving while under the influence, texting and driving, distracted driving, not wearing a seat belt and other reckless and illegal behaviors.
For several years, the Office of Attorney General and partners Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the Rhode Island Department of Corrections, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation (RIDOT) and the Rhode Island Family Court have hosted the Zero Fatalities Program, an impaired driving and underage drinking program where high school students are brought to the ACI to hear from young inmates convicted of DWI death resulting and from family members of victims killed in DWI crashes.
In 2012, Attorney General Peter Kilmartin teamed up with the Rhode Island State Police, local police and RIDOT to bring AT&T’s powerful “It Can Wait” presentation on the dangers of texting and driving to area schools. Since the program’s launch, Kilmartin and partners have made 50 school visits, where more than 18,000 high school students have taken the pledge to never text and drive.
“Having the opportunity to speak to thousands of young drivers each year about making the right choice when they get behind the wheel, I have witnessed the impact we are making firsthand. While you cannot prove that words have saved a life, I truly believe our efforts have started to change the driving habits of young people,” said Attorney General Peter Kilmartin. “Despite the decline in fatalities, the loss of even one life is one too many. We cannot ease up on enforcement or education just because we have made progress. Success is not measured by a decline in fatalities, but only when we reach zero fatalities year after year.”
“Our goal is to save lives: We want to make texting and driving as unacceptable as drinking and driving,” AT&T New England President Patricia Jacobs said. “With the leadership of Attorney General Kilmartin, the State Police and the RIDOT have been fantastic partners in bringing this message to thousands of high schoolers across the state, and we’re gratified that we’re helping change young drivers’ behavior. The message is simple: No life is worth a text - It really can wait. As we approach the busy prom, spring break and graduation season, we want to encourage drivers of all ages to join the It Can Wait movement and take the pledge to never text and drive.”
“As a member of Rhode Island’s Traffic Safety Coalition, AAA Northeast has collaborated with a host of like-minded stakeholders to push for laws that translate into fewer injuries and fewer fatalities on Rhode Island’s roadways,” says AAA’s Senior Vice President of Public & Government Affairs Lloyd Albert. “I have no doubt that recent legislation for which the Coalition has advocated – a seat belt law, a texting ban and a tougher drunk-driving law – will have a long-lasting impact on making our streets safer for all motorists, cyclists and pedestrians,” he added.
Relevant charts attached or can be viewed here: http://www.riag.ri.gov/documents/RIDrivingFatalitiesCharts.pdf