While a newly released state report shows that traffic fatalities in St. Johns County dipped in 2016, current numbers indicate that 2017 will close with roadway deaths taking a sharp turn upward.
The state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ 2016 Traffic Crash Facts report, released on Dec. 12, shows that traffic fatalities dropped to 30 in 2016, down from 37 in 2015.
That was a continuation of a brief downward trend that began in 2014 when there were 39 fatalities in St. Johns County.
The totals stand in contrast with overall numbers that show fatalities were up 8 percent statewide in 2016, when 3,176 were killed as compared to 2,939 in 2015.
Total crashes were up 5.73 percent in Florida during the same time, with 395,785 crashes in 2016 and 374,342 in 2015.
St. Johns County crash totals, though, grew more slowly those two years, with the report showing only a 3.71 percent bump from 3,344 in 2015 to 3,468 in 2016.
And although numbers for this year, available from the DHSMV’s website, show that 2017 may end in St. Johns County with fewer crashes than last year, deaths on the roadways have jumped from the 30 in 2016 to 43 so far this year.
Those numbers, which were current as of Dec. 26, show a 43 percent jump in deaths despite crashes numbering 3,444, slightly below 2016’s total.
Of this year’s deaths, 10 were pedestrians and one was a bicyclist, the website data show. For comparison, 8 pedestrians and one bicyclist were killed in the county last year.
Making sense of why fatalities can increase so drastically in one year, even when total crashes appear to be down, can be difficult, according to St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cmdr. Chuck Mulligan.
“Traffic fatalities are unique in that you can have four people decease and that totally skews your numbers,” he said Wednesday. “But really you had one crash.”
“There’s other variables too,” he added.
While population growth in St. Johns County, or even the state, is likely one of the many contributing factors to an overall upward trend in crashes, to determine exactly why deaths are up in one year over the next in a particular area, Mulligan said, one would really need to review each specific crash report to learn the details of the incidents.
That can include how many passengers and motorists were wearing seatbelts, the speed of travel, time of day and even the age of the vehicles involved.
One of the larger variables these day though is technology, Mulligan suggested. And that is something that can be both a blessing and a curse, particularly when one takes into account the proliferation of devices, like cellphones, than can distract drivers travelling at high speeds.
Technology like airbags and warning systems are making cars safer, he said. “But at the same time some of our driving behaviors could be a little riskier.”