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Fatalities behind the wheel decreasing
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The number of fatalities on California's highways and roads has reached a new low according to the latest data from the California Department of Transportation.
In 2010, the latest year for which data is available, there were 2,715 fatalities, down from 3,081 in 2009. The 2010 fatality rate in California was at its lowest level since 1944, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The rate was at its peak in 1987 with 5,504 deaths.
Caltrans is attributing the decline in part to safety improvements and programs like Slow for the Cone Zone and Safe Routes to Schools.
"We are committed to saving lives along the state's highways and roads," said Acting Caltrans Director Malcolm Dougherty. "Safety is our top priority and an essential component of every one of our projects."
Caltrans hopes they can continue the decline by focusing on the Strategic Highway Safety Plan, which was created in 2006 to address a broad range of traffic safety issues.
As part of the safety plan, the department awarded 80 grants worth about $140 million last year for use on improvement projects. The projects included installing left turn lanes, improving traffic signal timing, realigning roads, and paving highways with permeable asphalt to absorb rain water to reduce
crashes on slickened highways.
Also in 2011, Caltrans awarded $66 million to cities, counties, and regional agencies for 139 Safe Routes to School projects to improve safety for students in grades K-8 who walk and bicycle to and from school.
Caltrans also made strides toward making highways and local streets safer through its Slow for the Cone Zone public awareness campaign launched in 1999. California work zone fatalities declined 63.4 percent from 1999 to 2010, compared to a drop of just 37.4 percent nationally.
While the number of fatalities fell in 2010, the number of drivers with drugs in their systems involved in fatal crashes increased.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 30 percent of all drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in California in 2010 tested positive for legal and/or illegal drugs.
The percentage has been increasing since 2006, according to the administration.
"You can be as deadly behind the wheel with marijuana or prescription drugs as you can with over-the-limit alcohol," said Christopher J. Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety. "The bottom line is drugs and driving do not mix."