(Center) Tennessee Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons
Fatalities in Upper East Tennessee are down by 16 percent this year in comparison to the same time period in 2012, according to the state’s top safety official.
Tennessee Department of Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons said Wednesday the reduction is attributed, in part, to seatbelt usage and enforcement.
The state fatality rate is down by 11 percent overall, he said.
“That’s a pretty significant move in the right direction,” he said after meeting with troopers at the District 5 office in Fall Branch.
The district is comprised of 13 Upper East Tennessee counties, including Washington, Carter, Unicoi, Johnson, Sullivan, Greene, Hawkins, Hamblen, Hancock, Claiborne, Cocke, Jefferson and Grainger.
The entire district has had 10 fewer traffic fatalities — a total of 74 — this year compared to the same time period last year, when there were 84.
The reductions are: Hawkins County, down by five; Greene County, down by four; Grainger and Cocke counties, each down by two; and Hancock and Sullivan counties, each down by one.
Counties with an increase in fatalities are: Hamblen, up by two and Johnson, up by three. The rest of the district is even with numbers from last year.
Statewide there have been 591 fatalities this year compared to 636 last year.
“We’re doing better in Upper East Tennessee than we are statewide in reducing fatalities,” Gibbons said. “One thing we’re very committed to is making sure that the high patrol is a proactive law enforcement agency, having an impact on the bottom line. I think the best example of that is having an impact on the traffic fatality rate in our state.
“We’re really emphasizing DUI enforcement as well as seatbelt enforcement because those two factors are major contributors to our traffic fatality rate.”
Gibbons said troopers in the Fall Branch district are very proactive when it comes to seatbelt citations.
“We’ve had a 70 percent increase in seatbelt citations compared to this time last year. That reflects very proactive enforcement on the part of troopers in this part of our state.”
Gibbons said one of the biggest obstacles in continuing to reduce the number of traffic fatalities is getting troopers in the right places for enforcements.
“We are beginning to take a new step, we’re going to something called predictive analytics. That’s a fancy way of saying we’re going to be using data to predict where crashes, fatalities are more apt to occur based on past data, then using that predictive analytics to deploy our troopers.”
Gibbons said the state has been fortunate in its ability to keep trooper staffing levels up and to provide raises for those officers.
“What we’ve been able to do over the years is make some slight increases,” he said. “While a lot of state law enforcement agencies across the country have faced cuts, we have been fortunate to not face any cuts.”
Col. Tracy Trott said the THP’s ability to continue effective enforcements also hinges on relationships with local law enforcement agencies.
“We talk about our priorities to them, we ask them to help us with traffic enforcement, particularly the impaired driving and seatbelt campaign. They’re an integral part of our effort to reduce fatalities. They’ve been very cooperative, very good supporters for us,” Trott said.