By Danza Johnson/NEMS Daily Journal
The Mississippi Highway Patrol hopes adding 51 new troopers on state highways will help continue a downward trend in state highway fatalities in 2012.
In 2011, 600 people died in vehicle accidents across the state. That’s a high number, but the good news is that it’s the lowest total of the past decade and a 35 percent decrease from a peak of 931 in 2005.
The steady reduction in traffic fatalities earned Mississippi a regional award last year from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. Highway Patrol officials said a zero tolerance policy for drinking and driving and ticketing of seat belt violators had contributed to the positive trend.
Police focused on zero tolerance this past weekend for the New Year’s safety blitz they have every year.
For the New Year’s period statewide, on Dec. 30, Jacob R. Bryant, 21, of Ripley was killed when the vehicle he was driving flipped several times in Tippah County. On Dec. 31, Tanya Huacuja, 40, of Picayune was killed while traveling on Highway 11 near Ozona when she left the shoulder of the road and hit a culvert. On New Year’s Day, Stanley Iles, 59, of Sardis was on Highway 315 when he lost control of his pickup on a curve, left the road and hit a tree.
Trooper Ray Hall of New Albany-based Troop F said more manpower could have led to an even greater reduction in fatal accidents in 2011.
“Last year we were at a shortage for troopers and studies have shown that when troopers are visible accidents decrease,” said Hall. “We were spread thin because we sent troopers to the floods and to the tornadoes and other places. This year with the new troopers we hope to have that visibility back up.”
This is the first class of new troopers to hit the highways since 2007, according to Hall.
A large number of the accident deaths last year involved motorists not wearing seat belts, something Hall said troopers will pay more attention to this year.
“It’s senseless to see over half of your fatal crashes involve unbuckled drivers,” he said. “It’s proven seat belts save lives. Our focus this year will be to drive down the fatality rate in this district by strictly enforcing the seat belt laws.”