A startling statistic

In Michigan, a new safety campaign is displaying the number of traffic fatalities on state roadways so far this year.

The Michigan Department of Transportation says its hopes motorists take note of the pilot project, which runs through November.

The message will be displayed one day per month on electronic signs along roads including interstates and highways.

MDOT says the number currently is 440. State Transportation Director Kirk T. Steudle says that’s a “startling statistic.”

The safety project is using Dynamic Message Signs, which more typically are used to display construction information or road closings. MDOT says the message on the signs is a simple and inexpensive way MDOT can contribute to a “Toward Zero Deaths” effort.

“Displaying the number of lives lost on Michigan roads can be an effective way to influence driver behavior and increase driver focus,” said Steudle.

Several other states post similar messages on signs.

“Research has shown that public education and involvement are vital to achieving a reduction of traffic crash fatalities and injuries,” said Jim Santilli, executive director of The Traffic Improvement Association of Michigan. “I commend MDOT for using an innovative approach to educate all motorists about the importance of safe driving. We must all remember the numbers displayed represent real people whose families were torn apart by a traffic crash, which is completely preventable.”

Driver behavior factors into nearly 90 percent of all fatal crashes and one key to changing driver behavior is educating the public on the scope of the issue, Santilli said.

According to Lieutenant Gary Megge of the Michigan State Police Traffic Services Section in Lansing, driver error and behavior are the biggest challenges when it comes to the safety of our roadways.

“If everyone could steer clear of driving distracted, drowsy, impaired or careless, our roads would be much safer,” said Megge. “Displaying hard data for motorists is an eye opener that will increase awareness and focus.”

If a situation occurs where another message is deemed a higher priority than the safety message, the sign will be switched. Higher priority messages include incident messages, lane closures, shoulder closures and work zone messages.

According to the Michigan State Police, there were 273,891 reported traffic crashes in Michigan during 2012, of which 870 were fatal and 51,685 were personal injury. Of the fatal crashes, 281 were alcohol related.

“Remember, one simple mistake by a driver can change many lives forever,” said Santilli. “When operating a motor vehicle, we ask that drivers remain focused on the road, keep their hands on the wheel, driver sober, buckle up, and obey all traffic control devices. These simple practices will help to ensure their safety, and the safety of the innocent people around them.”