Fewer people are dying in traffic accidents, both nationally and in Indiana.
Here in Allen County, the news isn't as good. The Journal Gazette's Jim Chapman reported Sunday that 40 people died in vehicle crashes here during 2019 – almost double the number of traffic fatalities 10 years ago.
Crash deaths generally have been dropping for decades, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. More people wearing seat belts, growing awareness of the dangers of drunk driving, such technical safety improvements as airbags and electronic stability control – all have saved lives and will continue to save more.
That makes the trend in cities such as ours all the more puzzling and disturbing. “Urban fatalities,” the safety administration reported, “increased by 34% since 2009; rural fatalities declined by 15%.” In 2016, for the first time, the safety administration reported that more people died in urban traffic accidents than in rural ones, and the disparity has grown in the years since. Even as driving elsewhere is becoming safer, it appears to be becoming more hazardous, in some ways at least, in cities such as Fort Wayne.
The latest safety administration report suggests that huge increases in pedestrian, bicyclist and motorcyclist deaths account for some of the problem. And in Fort Wayne at least, one doesn't have to be a transportation expert to observe the latest fad in irresponsible motoring: the old sport of racing through yellow lights has evolved into the new, even-more-selfish-and-dangerous tactic of racing through lights that are already red.
And while the causes of vehicle crashes are myriad, there's no reason to doubt that distracted driving is an additional hazard for motorists – and one that could be easily addressed. Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb's proposal to ban drivers from using hand-held electronic devices not only could save lives, it doesn't raise anyone's taxes. What's not to like?
But anyone who tries to ascribe any degree of common sense to the state's lawmaking process is apt to be disappointed. In their session-opening agenda presentations, neither House nor Senate leaders listed the cellphone ban as a priority item. As House Speaker Brian Bosma told The Journal Gazette's Niki Kelly, some of his Republican Caucus members oppose the ban on libertarian grounds; indeed, Bosma himself said he is noncommital.
Seriously? The right to play “Words With Friends” as you swing around a traffic circle is a question of liberty?