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Calif. Traffic Deaths Fall 9%
Fewer Fatalities Believed to be Result of More DUI Arrests, Safer Driving Habits.

By Harrison Sheppard, From our Sacramento Bureau | Article Launched: 03/13/2007 10:08:34 PM PDT

SACRAMENTO - California traffic fatalities dropped last year by the biggest margin in more than a decade amid increased public awareness about safe driving practices, officials said Tuesday.

Last year, 3,907 people were killed in traffic accidents statewide, down about 9 percent from the previous year, according to the California Highway Patrol.

"That's still too many, but the fact of the matter is it's a large reduction," said CHP Commissioner Mike Brown.

"A 9.2 percent reduction in fatalities means hundreds of people got to go home and see their families and friends rather than make a visit to a hospital or morgue."

U.S. and Los Angeles County figures for 2006 were unavailable.

But Tina Pasco, executive director of the Los Angeles County chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said law enforcement in Los Angeles and elsewhere have stepped up efforts to reduce drunk driving in recent years.

Statewide, the CHP reported arresting 93,690 motorists for DUI, 4 percent more than the previous year. Officials cited 1.17 million drivers for speeding, up 6.6 percent.

Brown said law enforcement and traffic safety officials have stepped up efforts to enforce drunk driving laws while also increasing public awareness about seatbelt use and other safety measures through campaigns such as the "Click it or ticket" effort.

Officials said it was unclear whether the one-year drop in fatalities may indicate a broader trend.

Christopher Murphy, director of the California Office of Traffic Safety, said state officials will make additional efforts this year to target illegal street racers and repeat drunk drivers, and to educate high school students about safe driving.

"While significant progress was made in 2006, there is still much work to be done," Murphy said. "One needless death is one too many."

Nationally, the rate of traffic fatalities has decreased over the last decade.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the national traffic fatality rate in 2005 was 1.47 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, down from 1.73 fatalities per 100 million miles in 1995.

In 2005, there were 43,443 people killed in motor vehicle accidents in the United States, up less than one percent from the previous year.

Pasco said later this month, MADD will honor 281 officers from throughout Los Angeles County who removed 22,784 impaired drivers from the roads.

"Whenever you see law enforcement focusing on a particular area, whatever that crime is, it's driven down," Pasco said. "In this particular case, in California and certainly within CHP, you have DUI enforcement that has stepped up. And when that happens, we see lives saved."

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