Schenectady County

Thruway sees one of its safest years

Nick Cantiello, a spokesman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, said while the economy and g

Roads are safer across the country and New York state is no exception, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Exact figures for the entire state were not available Monday, but the state Thruway Authority is reporting that 2008 was the third safest year in the Thruway’s 53-year history.

The primary measure of safety is the fatality rate, measured by the number of fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In 2008 there were 28 fatal accidents on the Thruway resulting in 33 deaths, which is a fatality rate of 0.32 per 100 million miles.

The Thruway’s fatality rate is still below the national rate even though the country saw the lowest national fatality rate ever recorded.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported Monday that an estimated 37,313 people died in motor vehicle accidents on American highways in 2008, which results in a fatality rate of 1.28 per 100 million miles, down from 1.36 in 2007.

The NHTSA is crediting the decline to a number of factors, including the shrinking economy and soaring gas prices in 2008, which prompts people to drive less. Miles driven on national highways dropped 3.6 percent.

The state Thruway Authority is also reporting a decline in travel, down 4.3 percent for commercial travel and 2.7 percent for passenger traffic.

Also, more people are wearing their seat belts.

Seat belt use was also at an all-time high in New York state in 2008 — 89.1 percent, up 5.6 percent over 2007, according to the NHTSA.

Nick Cantiello, a spokesman for the state Department of Motor Vehicles, said while the economy and gas prices may play a factor in the national decline in traffic deaths, the state’s emphasis on traffic safety programs has contributed to the safety of New York’s roadways.

Cantiello said various programs from STOP-DWI patrols and child passenger safety seat initiatives to cell phone laws and the use of rumble strips all contribute to safer roads.

The Governor’s Traffic Safety Committee gave away $25.6 million in grants to local municipalities for traffic safety programs, including nearly $182,000 for programs in Schenectady County.

Denise Cashmere, Schenectady County Traffic Safety Committee coordinator, said the state grants, funded through the federal government, are a big help to local law enforcement agencies’ work to make the roads safer.

Cashmere said the money usually pays for extra officers to be on the road checking seat belts, cellphone use and aggressive driving, such as running red lights and speeding. Each month the state pegs one issue, Cashmere said.

This month it’s safety in school zones and around school buses. Recently there was Buckle Up month, during which waves of enforcement were out doing seat belt checks.

Eric Stigberg, public affairs manager at AAA Northway, said he agrees that people are driving less and wearing their seat belts more, which means fewer fatal accidents, but he also said people are driving less aggressively in order to get better gas mileage.

He also noted that vehicles have a lot more safety features than they once did.

However, Stigberg said the reduction in fatal accidents doesn’t mean people should relax while driving.

“We shouldn’t rest on our laurels. We need to constantly keep safety in mind because about 100 people die in motor vehicle accidents every day.”

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