By Clint Brown The Chronicle
The Pella Chronicle
---- — Marion County, four others to pilot the program
According to data from the Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, in 2012, 72 percent of fatal crashes in Iowa occurred on secondary rural roads. Approximately 79 percent of Iowa’s total roadways are considered secondary in nature. Due to these alarming statistics, rural safety has become a major concern.
“From 2004 to 2013 we’ve had 34 fatalities on secondary rural roads in the county,” Marion County Sheriff Jason Sandholdt said.
Beginning April 1, a new initiative identified as “High Five Rural Traffic Safety Project” was launched to focus on traffic safety on Iowa’s rural roadways. After reviewing 10 years of crash data and looking at counties with low seat belt compliance rates, the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau along with a multi-disciplinary team of traffic safety professionals selected five rural counties to participate in this project.
“This is an inactive from the Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau,” Patrick Hoye, Bureau Chief of the Governor’s Traffic Safety said. “We are taking a look at crash data from around the state. We’ve been looking for a rural roads project that we could help reduce fatalities in serious crashes. That’s where this program came about. It’s data driven and will take a look at where crashes are happening. We selected Marion County as one of the five to start this program in. We’ve decided to focus on three key elements. One is the enforcement level (of seatbelt use). The other is engineering aspects to roads and the third is the educational piece and making people aware of the importance of the project and hopefully to help them change their driving attitude.”
The counties participating in the project include Marion, Allamakee, Webster, Fremont and Palo Alto. The High Five project will involve a three-tier approach to include enforcement, engineering and education with the ultimate goal to build a safer community. Through enforcement, media, and community outreach, participating agencies will work to educate drivers on the benefits of complying with traffic laws with an emphasis on Iowa’s seat belt law. From an engineering aspect, the focus will be to identify low cost safety improvements throughout the county.
“When seat belt compliance rates go up, crash fatalities go down” Hoye said. “We are convinced it’s the single most important thing a driver can do when they get in the vehicle.”
During 2013, there were 317 fatalities in the state of Iowa. Although a record low number of fatalities for the state, every one is tragic and 317 is still too many. In addition to fatalities it is also important to recognize the number of serious injuries sustained in traffic crashes. The county sheriffs and county engineers within the High Five counties and the Iowa State Patrol are conscientious safety advocates who understand rural roads are unique because they are shared by a variety of vehicle types from passenger vehicles to large machinery and other farm implements traveling at slower speeds.
“I know a lot of times, when people see someone pulled over they think it’s just another ‘money maker’ for the county,” Sandholdt said. “That is not it at all, If my deputies aren’t pulling someone over for not wearing seat belts that’s great. That means people are wearing them. That will save lives. In the next 10 years we can lower that number, I will take the grief people will have if we are pulling people over. Public safety is critical. It’s not just the enforcement, but the educational piece. If people realize the importance of searing their seat belt, that makes my job easier.”
Enforcement efforts on roadways with higher volumes are common, but with Iowa’s percentage of rural fatalities above the national average the need to have a special program focusing coordinated efforts on rural safety has become apparent.
“We want to minimize the fatalities in the county,” Sandholdt stressed
The High Five project will conclude on September 30, 2015.
“This motivates me to give this a try and if we can be on the leading edge of saving lives, that’s great,” Sandholdt said. “We have a lot of users from out of the county that visit. If they know when they come to Marion County that have to wear their seat belt, maybe they will take that home and wear in there too.”