Oakland County’s successful, decades-long battle to reduce traffic fatalities was underscored at the Michigan Traffic Safety Summit on Friday, March 25.
Officials from the Traffic Improvement Association (TIA) and Road Commission for Oakland County (RCOC) pointed out that the county currently has one of the lowest traffic fatality rates in the world for an area of its size and population.
The statewide conference is a meeting of the minds for law enforcement, traffic engineers, government officials and other safety advocates, and is hosted by the Michigan State Police Office of Highway Safety Planning.
Both Jim Santilli, TIA vice president of operations, and Craig Bryson, public information officer for the RCOC, spoke on Oakland County’s behalf.
“This was a great opportunity to highlight Oakland County’s success story of significantly reducing injuries and fatalities that result from motor vehicle crashes,” Santilli said. “As a result of a strong partnership between TIA, RCOC, law enforcement and several communities, Oakland County roads are now among the safest in the world.”
Oakland County’s success story juxtaposed county conditions in 1967 and 2009. In 1967, Oakland County had a population of approximately 600,000, was home to roughly 250,000 jobs, reported 3 billion vehicle miles of travel annually and experienced 6.8 traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel.
In 2009, Oakland County had a population of more than 1.2 million, was home to roughly 850,000 jobs, reported 12.1 billion vehicle miles of travel annually and experienced 0.44 traffic fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles of travel.
“Back in 1967, Oakland County’s fatality rate was higher than the rate for both Michigan and the nation,” said Brent Bair, RCOC managing director. “Yet, in 2009, Oakland County’s fatality rate was less than half of Michigan’s rate and a little more than a third of the national rate.”
According to Bryson, two factors were key in achieving the low traffic fatality rate in Oakland County: The formation of the TIA in 1967 and the RCOC’s designation in 1978 of safety as its No. 1 priority. Accurate and timely crash data from TIA, Bryson said, made it possible for the RCOC to focus its efforts where they could make the most difference.
Bryson noted that if Oakland County had the same fatality rate in 2009 as in 1967, 770 more people would have lost their lives in that year alone, and the societal costs of those lost lives would have been approximately $4.6 billion.
“Safety considerations now permeate everything we do at the road commission,” Bryson said. “Over more than 40 years, we have created a ‘safety culture’ among our employees. Nearly all decisions are driven by this safety orientation, whether it’s project selection, project design or the selection of road maintenance activities. Thanks to the unwavering commitment to safety of the agency’s leadership for more than four decades, we are now a national leader in this field.”