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County traffic fatalities drop


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Road projects done in recent years and a focus on stopping and arresting drunken drivers have resulted in fewer fatal accidents on Johnson County roads than in last years, police said.

Last year, people were killed in six traffic accidents. Two accidents were in Whiteland, and four were in an unincorporated area of the county. In 2008, the county recorded twice as many fatal accidents.

In the past, a frequent factor in fatal accidents was intoxicated motorists. But in recent years, local police departments have sent out more officers to specifically look for drunken drivers. And as motorists have noticed the increase in enforcement, police have made fewer arrests and seen fewer accidents involving drunken driving, local police officials said.

Local communities also have worked to make roads and intersections safer by making changes in areas where fatal accidents occurred.

For instance, the county has lowered speed limits and sends more officers to patrol areas where multiple accidents have happened, Johnson County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Randy Werden said.

The Johnson County Sheriff’s Office was called to four fatal accidents last year after having none in 2011, but that number still is lower than in past years, Werden said.

“Four is way too many, but obviously four, with the number of people in our county, is really not that high. I don’t want to act like it’s not a big number, but in years past, it was drastically higher,” Werden said.

Sheriff’s deputies have focused on looking for possible drunken drivers and making sure motorists wear their seat belts in an effort to prevent fatal accidents, he said.

Werden remembers multiple fatal accidents in past years that were caused by intoxicated drivers.

But now he thinks motorists are seeing more police on the roads and are paying more attention to messages about not drinking and driving, which he believes has caused the number of drunken driving accidents to decrease, Werden said.

Local police departments have used money from state grants to pay officers overtime on nights and weekends to patrol the roads for impaired drivers, Franklin Police Department Lt. Kerry Atwood said.

Over time, the increase in officers on the streets has helped reduce the number of drunken driving arrests and accidents, Atwood said.

“With the economy change, people lose their jobs, and you see more people driving drunk. But with the blitz put on through media and police efforts, the numbers have dwindled so you don’t have as many DUI arrests and don’t have as many fatalities,” Werden said.

Another key issue is the safety of the roads motorists are driving on, local police said.

As cities, towns and the county redo intersections and roads that were considered dangerous or were the site of serious and fatal accidents, that also helps reduce the number of future accidents, officials said.

In Franklin, city officials added speed humps to King Street in 2011 as a way to slow drivers down.

The county straightened curves on Airport Road and on Graham Roads to prevent accidents. Work also is planned to straighten State Road 44 at Centerline Road, the site of several serious accidents over the years.

Werden responded to an accident on Airport Road in which a pregnant woman was killed, but the county has not responded to nearly as many accidents there since curves on the road were eliminated in 2007, he said.

In Greenwood, the city added a median at an intersection on Fry Road near Greenwood Park Mall in 2011 where pedestrians had been killed in previous years and where vehicle accidents often occurred, assistant police chief Matthew Fillenwarth said.

Before construction, vehicles collided when motorists attempted to cross between the Kohl’s parking lot and that of another shopping center to the south or to turn left onto Fry Road, Fillenwarth said. The city put in a median, allowing traffic to only turn right. The media has greatly decreased the number of accidents, he said.

The city also put in a new traffic light near the intersection.

“That was one of our deadliest intersections. We barely had any accidents there last year due to the fact the city redid it,” Fillenwarth said.

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