Police credit fewer traffic fatalities on focused enforcement of DUI, seat belt laws

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee — A law enforcement official says focused enforcement efforts on drunken driving and seatbelt usage has helped decrease the number of traffic fatalities in Tennessee last year.

Preliminary numbers from the Department of Safety and Homeland Security and the Department of Transportation show there were 961 traffic deaths in 2014. That's 35 fewer than in 2013, when 995 fatalities were recorded.

A joint statement from the agencies says the number is the second-lowest since 1963.

Tennessee Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott said in a news release on the numbers that he credits the focus law enforcement has put on finding intoxicated and unbelted drivers. He says state troopers arrested almost 2,000 more people on suspicion of DUI in 2014 than in 2013. The year had an 18.6 percent decline in DUI-related deaths.

"I know that our traffic enforcement efforts are making a difference in Tennessee," Trott said. "Those numbers are not by accident; they are by design. We've placed a greater emphasis on removing impaired drivers from our roadways in the last few years, and the traffic fatality figures are a result of those efforts."

THP also focused on seat belt and child restraints, issuing 102,758 citations in 2014 compared to about 74,000 in 2013.

"Unrestrained motorists still accounted for 50 percent of vehicle occupants killed in 2014," Trott said. "Seat belts save lives. We have to change driver behavior in order to make a difference there."

Department of Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons said in the release that decreasing deaths is a priority for the agency.

"We've made vast improvements in all areas of traffic safety; however, we have much more to accomplish and hope to see even better results in 2015," he said.

TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said officials are aiming to reduce traffic deaths by 10 percent in five years.

"Reducing the number of fatalities by 10 percent is a realistic, but challenging goal," Schroer said in the release. "By designing safer roads, using data-driven enforcement and educating drivers, we can make drastic improvements and save hundreds of lives."

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