Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Outstanding trend

Traffic seems to be the topic du jour of late on The Chief's Corner, so it might be a nice time to point out a particularly outstanding trend. I've pointed out before that traffic crash fatalities are falling precipitously in Nebraska and in Lincoln. It's not just fatalities, though, it's all traffic crashes. Over the past 15 years, the crash rate (crashes per million miles driven) in Nebraska has fallen by more than one third. Lincoln's decline has been particularly impressive.

In August, two excellent crash analyses were released. The Nebraska Department of Roads released it's Annual Report, Traffic Crash Facts, and the City of Lincoln Public Works Department released it's 2006 Crash Study. Both of these are concise documents with informative charts and tables that won't overwhelm readers.

It is generally held that three major factors help reduce traffic crashes: engineering, education, and enforcement. We play a small role in engineering and education, but we pretty much have a monopoly on enforcement. Of the three, I think engineering provides the most dramatic case studies of the impact.

There are some outstanding examples in Lincoln of engineering projects that have had a huge impact on crashes. The intersection of S. 33rd St. and Sheridan Blvd. (the webcam there is displayed on the sidebar in The Chief's Corner) is a case in point. That intersection became a roundabout on June 26, 2002. In the six years prior to the conversion, there had been 76 crashes, 20 with injuries. In the six years since the conversion, there have been 16 crashes with no injuries at all. Click the graph for a larger view:

There are many other examples of this, including such locations as Highway 77 and Cornhusker Highway, Old Cheney Rd. and Highway 2, 17th and Holdrege St., and the elimination of left turns at 56th and O St. and Cotner and O St. It will be interesting to see if a similar phenomenon occurs at 9th and Van Dorn, where a major redesign has drastically changed the traffic pattern. Personally, I'm hoping the Bermuda Triangle at Warlick, Old Cheney, and S. 14th Street gets re-engineered in my lifetime!

Good engineering is critical, but enforcement of traffic laws also contributes to enhanced safety. It is noteworthy that the decline in Nebraska traffic fatalities parallels the statewide increase in drunk driving enforcement. Traffic law enforcement is a very important part of the police role. Making traffic stops and issuing citations may not be glamorous, but it reduces property losses, prevents injury, and truly saves lives. It probably has a more immediate impact on safety than most anything we do.

Through the first seven months of the year, Lincoln police officers issued 32,068 official traffic citations, 28,803 warning tickets, and arrested 1,295 drunk drivers. We are on track to (finally!) smash the decades-old record of of 1,992 DWI arrests set in 1974. It may be aggravating for otherwise law-abiding citizens to occasionally receive a traffic ticket, but enforcement works and it helps protect us all.


Anonymous said...

On a rare occasion I call to report a drunk driver here in Lincoln. I am aware that all of the reports are broadcast to the field. Many of the drivers are not found. As for the times I have contacted NSP, all of those were arrested, except one. About a dozen or so in the last 16 months. The one mentioned above made it all the way to Lincoln from Omaha. I followed the car to the point I was no longer going the same direction. When I contacted Lincoln the dispatcher suggested I not follow it. I explained I was going this way and I was not going out of my way to be behind it. I had updated the location for about five minutes. I had to part company with this drunk when I had reached my turn for home.
Here is my suggestion. Send a letter to people who are reported as driving drunk. Let them know that it was a report and that as a courtesy a letter is being sent to advise the owner of the car of the report. Some of the things readers should know about reporting a drunk driver are listed here.
1. My location
" I Am reporting a drunk driver east bound on I80 at the 436 Mile marker.

2. The color, make, model of car and plate number.
"It is a Red Nissan with Nebraska plate, 21-Imadrunk

3.Answer any questions the dispatcher has. You may want to say "the driver is a male/female about mid 30's and provide any comments, "The driver hit a construction cone, the driver is weaving or slumped over the wheel and looking out of one eye. The driver just vomited out the window. (I seen that one) Any thing I missed here Chief?

Tom Casady said...


You're not missing anything. Just keep in mind that depending on the location, time of day, and present workload you may or may not have any officers available that dispatchers can vector in for an intercept.

Never put yourself in a dangerous position, such as trying to cut the drunk driver off, or following too close.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget about the price of gas contributing to the fall in accidents. Less people on the road equals less potential for accidents.

Anonymous said...

Any reduction in crash rates, especially injury crash rates is always good news. Crashes cost people money, but injury crashes can affect them for the rest of their lives.

A couple of things about these roundabout-type intersections: Not only do they slow people down (giving them more time to react, and reducing the chance of injury if a crash does happen), but they also make it almost impossible for a driver to negotiate without paying close attention to what's going on in front of them; you're always turning and adjusting your rate of turn. It's easier to space off while traveling through a conventional intersection that a roundabout.

Tom Casady said...


That's why you want to look not at the numbers of crashes, but rather the rates (number of crashes/x miles driven.)

Table 11 on page 28 in the State report, or the graph on page 6 in the Lincoln report are good depictions of the rates over time. Crash rates, are way down.

Anonymous said...

Roughly speaking, what percentage of Lincoln's on-the-street accidents are rear-enders and caused by an inattentive drivers that look down/away/elsewhere, then look back up and magically finds that traffic has slowed/stopped and WHAM? This seems like such an easy thing to avoid, if drivers would pay attention to their first priority - operating their vehicle in a responsible manner.

Anonymous said...

Crash rates are way down because of the stepped up enforcement by the LPD. You see a cruiser everywhere. There has also been a crackdown on people who drive with a suspended license. A fall in the rate of accidents isn't the result of falling gas prices. This trend has been going on for 15 years. The spike in gas prices has only been in the last 5 years. I also credit the judges as well. They aren't just merely slapping people on the wrist for Driving under suspension, DUI, etc. They are facing pretty stiff penalties.

Tom Casady said...


30.84%, to be precise--at least in 2006. You'll find the graph on page 8 of the Lincoln Crash Study.

Ozne said...


To back track on a past blog, how many of your Captains submit nominations for Officer of the Year? Surely, every squad has someone that could be nominated? I believe EVERY Captain should be strongly encouraged to submit at least one name for Officer of the Year. Perhaps, even one Officer per shift in their unit, investigative units included.
A number of your officers are doing great police work that often goes unnoticed. Or so it seems.
What are your thoughts?

Anonymous said...

Thanks, that's a great report. I see that rear-end crashes most common accident type. No wonder I flash my brake lights a few times when I see a car approaching from behind at a pretty good rate of speed.

How does an Officer determine if an at-fault rear-ender rates a negligent driving citation, or the more serious careless driving citation?

By the way, I bet most drivers incorrectly assume that ND is worse than CD (I would too).

Tom Casady said...


I think it sort of defeats the purpose of the awards process if people are "required" to nominate a certain number of people. We had nine great nominations this year. It's an honor I never achieved, but I was honored just to be an also-ran once!


In rear-end collisions, we almost always issue negligent driving, based on advice over many City prosecutors careers. The City ordinance really is the same, and I suspect they don't want to fight over the precise distinctions between two words and a single point. I wrote hundreds of rear-end collison citations during my early years--every single one for neg. driving.

Anonymous said...

Wo8uld you like to see a lot of the accident reports written at that Warlick/14th/Old Cheney junction have the "engineering study needed?" box checked "yes"?

I was looking at an overhead of that tangle - it looks like a disaster waiting to happen, and on a regular basis. I saw a program on DSC (I think) where they showed examples of poorly-engineered freeway interchanges, and how they were then redesigned to improve safety; very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Careful what you wish for in breaking that old DWI arrest record. It is going to cost money for court & some in management won't want to pay.

Anonymous said...

@ 3:56

I have written accident tickets for failure to yield, following too close, speed too fast for conditions and other appropriate violations and ALL of them were amended to negligent driving by the city attorney's office. Apparently that's what they want.

Anonymous said...

The sgt who worked your accident must not have read this

On a separate note, I have found this website helpful for when I was learning how to add html links.

Our pirate must be computer savvy as well. Though I'm not sure how he does it on his keyboard.

Tom Casady said...


I made the call on that one. The other driver was on his way to a chemotherapy appointment.

Trina said...

Chief, there's a new book out called Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What it Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt. I've read one decent review and one interesting short report from it and will check it out from the library. May not be a bunch of new stuff to you, but interesting for information geeks nonetheless.

Anonymous said...

Happy that for the most part, accidents are down in the area.
Accidents, I believe are caused by speed and not paying attention (cell phones). If you travel 70th street from just South of O Street to near Hwy 2, you will see these two accident causing actions and more. Van Dorn, South and A street intersections remind me of the old hot rod movies, someone drops a hankie and away we go. Seldom do we see cruisers or other forms of enforcement from LPD.