Bloomington-Normal looks to buck state and national trends in traffic deaths
Traffic deaths in the United States rose 12% in the first nine months of 2021. That’s the biggest year-to-year increase since the federal government started tracking that data.
That’s after 2020 saw an increase in traffic deaths, even when there were a lot fewer cars on the roads at the start of the coronavirus pandemic.
The 31,702 deaths reported from January to September 2021 is the highest in the U.S. since 2006, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Raymond Lai is executive director of the McLean County Regional Planning Commission (RPC). The commission has an ambitious goal to eliminate traffic deaths in McLean County by 2030.
Lai said he has personally seen driving behaviors that may contribute to more crashes. He wonders how much of that may be caused by the added stress, anxiety and substance use tied to the pandemic.
“I’ve had a number of cars passing me on the right-hand side for example and I was going the speed limit,” Lai said. “Just from a personal experience on the highways, I was really surprised at how people are driving these days.
Illinois saw one of the highest increases in traffic deaths last year at 18%.
Bloomington and Normal police reported three traffic deaths last year. That’s down from four in 2020 and five in 2019. There were no traffic deaths in the Twin Cities in 2018, according to data compiled by the RPC.
“The data for our area contradicts the (state and national) rise in deaths, but we are not down to zero, so we still have to keep working on reducing the number of crashes,” Lai said.
The GoSafe McLean County campaign aims to redesign roads and intersections to make them safer and more pedestrian friendly and to promote better driving habits.
Lai said public education is crucial to make any traffic safety measures work. The Town of Normal is considering changes to a busy intersection on the Illinois State University campus where a pedestrian was killed last fall.
Lai said and traffic improvements should be left to the town, but he added the town will need to make sure the public is aware.
“There will be a lot of public education and awareness campaigns to bring the community, neighborhoods, students (and others) near the campus to be more aware of where they are going," La said.
Lai did not suggest any specific recommendations for the interception of College Avenue and Kingsley Street, but said he believes pedestrian walkways can be safely placed in high-traffic areas.
“If properly done it would help because it’s not going to get worse,” Lai said.
The area near College and Kingsley sees about 9,600 motorists daily, according to data compiled by the Illinois Department of Transportation.