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Local Editorials

‘Nut’ behind wheel essential to traffic safety

Greater awareness and enforcement of traffic laws can nudge drivers toward safer behavior behind the wheel and return state traffic fatalities to a downward trend.

It takes teamwork to make Illinois roads safer to drive.

Automakers have done their part. Vehicles have better safety equipment. In crashes, motorists are more likely to survive.

Government has done its part. Illinois state leaders have approved billions of dollars in road repairs.

Likewise, lawmakers and the governor regularly team up to enact laws to improve traffic safety.

But there remains one big obstacle to improved traffic safety.

It’s that “nut” behind the wheel.

If that “nut” can be properly adjusted, fewer crashes, injuries, and fatalities will result.

In the past half decade, Illinois recorded fewer than 1,000 traffic fatalities a year.

That’s a major accomplishment, considering that as late as 1979, more than 2,000 fatalities were recorded a year. (The highest death toll was in 1941, when 2,600 people were killed.)

But from a low of 911 deaths in 2009 (the lowest death toll since 1921), the numbers have edged upward to 973, the provisional total last year.

To halt that rise, drivers – the “nuts” behind the wheel – should embrace all safety laws.

The newest one is a ban on drivers using hand-held cellphones. (Motorists can still talk on cellphones if they use hands-free technology.)

As of Jan. 1, first-time offenders face a $75 fine, which rises for subsequent offenses. If you rack up four violations, your driver’s license could be suspended.

State Police continue to target their “Fatal Four” infractions – speeding, no seat belts, distracted driving, and driving under the influence. In recent years, tougher DUI laws have assisted in reducing drunken driving fatalities.

So far this year, the traffic safety news is good.

As of Wednesday, provisional statistics on fatal crashes for 2014 show 13 deaths, compared to 31 this time a year ago. Heavy snow and subzero conditions, which kept some drivers off the roads part of last week, likely contributed to the reduction.

Those difficult conditions didn’t last long.

That leaves it up to motorists to practice safe driving daily and put state traffic fatalities on a downward trend again.

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