For the first time in many years Wallowa County reported zero traffic fatalities during 2002, and preliminary figures released by Oregon Department of Transportation indicates 2002 was one of the safest years on Oregon highways and roads since Dwight Eisenhower was president.
For only the second time since 1956, the state posted a fatality total of less than 430.
Last year's total of 426 deaths continues the state's trend of record reductions in traffic fatalities over the past four years. Prior to 1999, the average yearly total going back to the 1960s was over 500 deaths, including three years with more than 700 fatalities. Fatalities reported in the last few years have been: 1997, 524; 1998, 538; 1999, only 414; 2000, 451; and 2001, 488.
"We are encourged, but we cannot celebrate because even with the reduction 426 people lost their lives, said Troy Costales, manager of ODOT Transportation Safety Division.
He credits a number of individuals and organizations, including law enforcement agencies, community volunteers and ODOT for contributing to the safety improvement success. "When you consider the state population has doubled and vehicle traffic has increased vastly since 1956, it is remarkable to think that the fatality total is back down to that historic level," said Costales.
A combination of factors, including tough laws for DUII offenders, graduation driver licensing for teens, high rates of seat belt use, public education efforts and a variety of programs each aimed at reducing specific types of dangerous behavior, were cited for contributing to the lower fatality level.
In addition to the physical and emotional toll taken on crash victims and their families, Costales said there is a large financial cost associated with serious traffic crashes. Each fatality costs an average of $1 million in lost wages, lost productivity and costs associated with the crash and death. Each traffic crash injury costs an average of $50,000 in lost productivity, medical bills rehabilitation and other costs.
The preliminary total of 426 fatalities could change slightly as crash investigations continue. County totals and detailed data by crash type, cause, driver characteristics and other categories for 2002 will not be available until later this year.