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MDOT displays traffic death count to encourage safer driving

cars on a highway
Joe Shlabotnik
Is removing a highway progress?

Automakers spend a lot of time and money touting the safety features of their vehicles, all of which have dramatically improved safety for drivers and passengers.

But despite greater and more advanced safety measures, the National Safety Council tells us America is on track to have its highest traffic death toll since 2007, when over 41,000 people died on our country’s roads.

That sobering fact highlights the continuing need for the campaign called Toward Zero Deaths. The national safety campaign’s goal is to work toward a highway system free of fatalities.

One very visible part of that campaign: those message signs on various roads displaying the latest number of traffic fatalities in Michigan. The tally is updated each Wednesday.

At the time of writing, the toll is up to 855 fatalities.

Mark Bott, traffic and safety engineer for the Michigan Department of Transportation, says MDOT began displaying the count in 2013 in an attempt to encourage drivers be more mindful of their driving habits.

“It was just to bring awareness to the Michigan driver how many fatalities are occurring on our roadways every year. I just don’t think they know that,” he says.

Bott tells us that while the idea has received support from the public, MDOT has also seen criticism of the signs. Some pointed to the signs as yet another distraction to take attention away from the road, and others felt that seeing the count displayed hit a little too close to home.

“It’s a very sensitive issue and we recognize that, because people, when they look at that sign, perhaps someone they know is part of that number,” he says.

He tells us the increased number of folks on the road this year certainly creates more opportunities for accidents to happen, but beyond that it’s hard to nail down specifically why this year would see such a rise in traffic fatalities.

“I think there’s a lot more awareness now on, for instance, distracted driving. Many times in the past … maybe that information wasn’t recorded by the police officer. Now we’re seeing that, and saying, ‘Wow, there seems to be an increase in distracted driving,’ but perhaps that’s always been the case, we’ve just never been able to record it in the past,” Bott says.

If nothing else, Bott advises everyone to drive a safe and appropriate speed.

“It just seems that everybody in today’s society is in such a hurry to get from Point A to Point B,” he says. “Quite frankly, are you really going to get there, what, one or two minutes earlier? Is that really worth the price to pay? I question that.”

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