Fatal accidents increase in 2018

District 7 saw 10 more fatal crashes compared to 2017

The amount of fatal traffic accidents in the local Iowa State Patrol district increased by 10 in 2018.

In all, there were 23 fatal accidents that were investigated by the Iowa State Patrol last year, according to Lt. Mark Miller, District 7 commander. Those 23 accidents led to the deaths of 26 people, according to data provided by the Iowa State Patrol.

In 2017, there were 13 fatal crashes in District 7. There were 16 in 2016.

District 7 for the Iowa State Patrol includes Webster, Wright, Hamilton, Kossuth, Pocahontas, Calhoun and Humboldt counties.

While three of the 23 fatal accidents are still under investigation, Miller said it appears the most common cause of those accidents was distracted driving.

In fact, he said that’s also been the major cause of fatal accidents in the District 7 area over the past decade.

Miller recently helped compile data on District 7 fatal accidents over the past 10 years.

In that time frame, 144 of those fatal crashes happened in “rural” environments, which Miller said excludes cities such as Fort Dodge.

“In 78 percent of those 144 accidents, a driver was distracted in some way,” he said, “whether it was operating the radio, reaching for something, distracted by somebody else in the vehicle, or using their cell phones. They were distracted by something and their attention was pulled from that highway. That’s a pretty high number.”

The second most common factor in fatal crashes over the past 10 years was people not wearing a seat belt. In 67 percent of those accidents, Miller said the person killed was not wearing a seat belt.

The No. 3 most common cause of fatal crashes was speeding.

With the increase in fatal crashes in District 7, Miller said he and the other troopers are working to help decrease that amount.

This year, he said the district is focused on putting a stop to distracted driving.

“As a district, our main objective for the year is going to be distracted driving,” he said. “We’re going to increase our efforts on that. It’s a hard law to enforce because we need to put our time into it.”

Miller said one tactic District 7 plans on using is having troopers drive around in unmarked vehicles to try and spot drivers who may be distracted.

“They’re things you wouldn’t usually see as a patrol car,” he said.

But the disadvantage to that is, because they’re unmarked vehicles, troopers driving them can’t actually pull someone over. Miller said they would need to get in touch with a trooper in a patrol vehicle to have a distracted driver get pulled over.

However, he added that the troopers are dedicated to stopping distracted drivers.

“We’re letting drivers know that it’s not OK to drive while on your cell phone, typing information or reading off of it or trying to look at your Facebook account,” he said. “It’s just dangerous.”

Troopers will also be focused on seat belt usage and speed enforcement.

Miller went on to say that drivers can also take precautions to help prevent themselves from becoming victims of a fatal crash.

“Put their seat belt on, No. 1,” he said. “And stay off your distractions. Stay away from your phone. Don’t be texting, don’t be trying to look up Facebook messages.”

He also said to not program a GPS while driving. If someone needs to use a GPS, they should pull off on the side of the road.

Additionally, Miller said drivers need to be aware of their speeds and road conditions.

“Things go bad really fast when they go bad,” he said. “You might need that extra second of reaction time.”