Illinois is fortunate to have experienced a steady decrease in the number of highway traffic fatalities.
Starting in 2009, the death toll dipped below 1,000 for the first time since 1921 (2009, 911 deaths; 2010, 927 deaths; and 2011, 918 deaths), according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. In the 2000s, the highest death toll was 1,454 in 2003, so the recent reduction is substantial.
Earlier decades saw horrendous carnage; 2,600 people were killed in 1941, the highest annual death toll. Deaths hovered above 2,000 from 1963 until 1979, and above 1,000 from 1980 until 2009.
Safer roads came about because of safer vehicles, better highway designs, and a successful statewide effort to reduce drunken driving. Laws also require seat belt usage and crack down on speeders and driving distractions.
Traffic safety officials, therefore, are correct to worry about a substantial increase in roadway deaths since the first of the year.
As of July 5, 479 people had been killed. At that rate, traffic fatalities will rise to nearly 960 by the end of the year.
That’s a step in the wrong direction.
Laws such as those signed last week by Gov. Pat Quinn are a step in the right direction. One law bans the use of cellphones in all roadway work zones.
Another law bans motorists from talking on and taking pictures with a mobile phone near an emergency scene.
A third cracks down on repeat offenders who speed excessively.
Those laws join numerous others designed to increase traffic safety.
Lawmakers and the governor are correct to do what it takes to keep people safe.
Motorists must remember to do their part. Shutting off cellphones while behind the wheel is an excellent place to start.