WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) – The North Carolina State Highway Patrol is reporting a significant increase in fatal crashes, despite there being fewer drivers out over the past several months.
While the state saw a 16-percent decrease in drivers on the road over the last six months, the agency says fatal crashes are up 9.9 percent compared with this time last year. Out of those crashes, troopers also report a 10-percent increase in crashes where speed was a factor and an 18-percent increase in crashes where the person died because they weren’t wearing a seat belt.
Sgt. Chris Knox of the Highway Patrol knows the increase in fatal accidents is more than just statistics. Each one represents a human life lost when a person made the decision to speed or drive without a seat belt.
“We’ve seen a pretty significant increase and it’s disturbing to us. We know that those aren’t just numbers, they’re people,” Knox said. “Some, unfortunately, have paid for that decision with their lives.”
Experts believe the higher speeds they’ve been seeing are related to there being fewer drivers on highways during the pandemic.
However, highway patrol says they haven’t necessarily seen an increase in speeding tickets. There’s actually been a decline in people getting cited for going a few over the speed limit, but an increase in the most dramatic cases of speeding.
“We’ve seen that those really high, really egregious violations — the people going triple digits — that category has gone up. We’re seeing more people getting these really high speeds and we attribute that to them having more room to roam,” Knox said.
A lot of these driving trends depend on the density and landscape of an area. Communities like the City of Wilmington are more condensed, and have fewer miles of open road.
Wilmington police say they haven’t necessarily seen a noticeable increase in deadly crashes, but they can confirm they’ve seen fewer crashes due to impairment this year. They believe bar closures and alcohol curfews have played a role in driving those numbers down.
“Drunk driving numbers are going down; however, our crashes are still about the same. You know, even though we may not have the impairment related fatalities we’re still having the crashes — they’re speed-related, they’re inattention related, so that unfortunately has not changed,” said Cpl. Adam Shwartzel of the Wilmington Police Department.
Statewide, there was an 18-percent increase in deadly crashes where the victim wasn’t wearing a seatbelt. It’s a problem Shwartzel says he sees at a local level too.
“People not wearing seat belts has been a constant problem for law enforcement across the country and if we could drive it home that the seat belts save lives…you know, if you’re in a crash, it will keep you in the cockpit of the car where all the protective devices are,” Shwartzel said.
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