1 year ago

UA study: Fatal crashes increased in Alabama in 2016

Alabama traffic fatalities climbed nearly 25 percent in 2016, a University of Alabama study finds. (iStock)

Deaths from the state’s traffic crashes in 2016 increased by nearly a quarter from 2015, according to a recent study of data by researchers at the University of Alabama.

Critical causes of more traffic fatalities include increased speeds, lack of safety belts and more distracted drivers as well as pedestrians, according to the analysis of crash reports statewide.

Although final numbers for 2016 are not yet official, the count to date is 1,058 traffic fatalities in Alabama through the end of 2016, which is 24.6 percent more than the 849 people who died in traffic crashes in 2015, according to state crash records.

Alabama NewsCenter graphic by Jay Parker

Total traffic collisions, however, increased only slightly. There were 149,339 crashes in 2015 and 152,532 in 2016, an increase of 2.1 percent.

“That this increase was less than one tenth that of the fatalities indicates that there are issues on our highways that need to specifically address the fatality problem,” said Dr. David Brown, a research associate at the UA Center for Advanced Public Safety (CAPS).

Brown directed the study using the Critical Analysis Reporting Environment, or CARE, system that enabled researchers at CAPS to isolate the major causes of the increase in traffic fatalities.

“A variety of factors were found, but, in order of importance, I would say that speed, safety belts, distracted driving and pedestrian faults all had major contributions to the increase,” Brown said. “These causes were often further intensified by their occurring in combination with driving under the influence of alcohol, drugs or both.”


In 2016, there were more crashes with impact speeds faster than 50 mph, and for all crashes at 50 mph or faster, impact speeds were more than in 2015, according to the study. The largest percentage increase was at the highest speed category of 91 mph or above, which increased from 21 fatal crashes with 28 deaths in 2015 to 33 fatal crashes and 44 deaths in 2016.

CAPS research has shown every increase of 10 mph doubles the probability of the crash being fatal.

“With the increased speeds that we are observing while on the highways, it is surprising that the fatality increase is not even higher, and speed also adds to lack of control, which increases crash frequency as well,” Brown said.

Safety belts

Buckling up likely would have prevented at least 200 of last year’s fatalities. (iStock)

In 2016, 403 people died during crashes without using restraints despite them being available, according to the study. Brown estimates well more than half of these, or at least 200 fatalities, could have been avoided by proper use of restraints. The greatest offenders of the seat-belt law are those who are driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Other studies have shown 90 percent of drivers and passengers in Alabama use seat belts; however, for those who die in auto crashes, less than half were using restraints. Brown said CAPS researchers using recent data have determined the probability of being killed in an auto crash increases by a factor of 30 for those who are not properly restrained. In other words, for those restrained, only one in about 400 crashes is fatal, but when restraints are not used the odds increase to one in 13 crashes.

Distracted driving

Nationally, studies have concluded that 16 percent of fatal crashes are caused by some form of distracted driving. In Alabama, the number of reported cases in which distracted driving caused the crash increased by about 20 percent in 2016 over 2014, according to the analysis of crash statistics.

Despite numerous campaigns to prevent it, distracted driving accounted for 16 percent of fatal crashes in Alabama in 2016. (iStock)

Pedestrian at fault

Of every 10 collisions with a person walking, six were the fault of the pedestrian, according to crash records. Of the 120 pedestrians killed, 72 could have been averted by improved behaviors of the person killed, according to the study. Records show drug use to be eight times the expected involvement in pedestrian fatalities than in nonfatal pedestrian injuries, and alcohol involvement was over-represented by a factor of two.

“This, coupled with the obvious distraction of pedestrians using their cell phones while walking, creates a very serious increase in these extremely severe crashes,” Brown said.

Safety tips

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error. With that in mind, traffic safety professionals at CAPS make the following strong recommendations:

    • Buckle up every time you get in a vehicle.

    • Put aside all distractions, look ahead and concentrate on constantly moving to safer situations as you drive.

    • Do not even think about driving if you have had any alcohol or disabling drugs, including marijuana.

    • Put up the cell phone, and don’t text while driving or walking near roadways, even if they do not seem to be busy.

• “It is imperative that mindsets be changed and citizens realize personal responsibilities if these tragic events are to be averted in the future,” Brown said.


22 mins ago

Alabama House rejects bill to track race in traffic stops

Alabama lawmakers on Thursday refused to debate legislation that would have required police officers to collect data about race and traffic stops.

The bill sought to require police agencies to record data about the race and ethnicity of stopped motorists. The Alabama Senate had unanimously approved the measure, but it hit a roadblock in the Alabama House of Representatives.


Representatives in the GOP-controlled House overwhelmingly voted down a procedural measure needed to bring the bill up for debate. The House vote was largely split along racial and party lines. Only five Republicans voted for the measure.

“After the vote, Democratic Rep. Merika Coleman from Pleasant Grove said lawmakers were sending a message that, “Bama is still backwards.”

Coleman said the bill collects data to determine if there are problems.

“When you vote against a bill that simply collects data, just data on who is being stopped, why they are being stopped and who is stopping them, there is something wrong with that,” Coleman said.

African-American lawmakers had shared stories of being stopped by police during debate on the bill as it moved through the Alabama Legislature.

The bill’s defeat sparked a filibuster by African-American legislators and threatened to cloud the remainder of the session. It eroded warm feelings that had filled the chamber moments earlier when lawmakers broke out in applause after voting to create a state holiday honoring civil rights icon honoring Rosa Parks.

The bill drew opposition from some law enforcement representatives who said departments already have policies against racial profiling and the bill would require additional paperwork.

Rep. Connie Rowe, a former police chief, said she was concerned that officers, assigned to work in mostly minority neighborhoods, could wrongly appear to be targeting minorities if the data was collected.

Rep. Allen Farley, a former assistant Jefferson County sheriff, was one of the Republicans who voted for the bill.

“This to me protects the good guys,” Farley, a Republican from McCalla, said. Farley said bad officers need to be identified.

House Speaker Mac McCutcheon, who voted against the bill, said he wanted to meet with lawmakers to see if they could work out a compromise plan.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

Jeana Ross is a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact

An Alabama program called First Class Pre-K is seeing such extraordinary results that Harvard University is producing a documentary about the effort and more than 30,000 four-year-olds were pre-registered last year in hopes of snagging one of the less than 17,000 available spots state-wide.

The program is overseen by Alabama Secretary of Early Education Jeana Ross, a 2018 Yellowhammer Woman of Impact, who has seen First Class Pre-K’s attendance increase by 374 percent under her leadership, while maintaining the highest possible ranking for quality by the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).

Alabama hosts the program in more than 950 classrooms statewide and is one of only two states to meet all 10 of the institute’s quality benchmarks.


Ross told Yellowhammer News that the most rewarding part of her work is seeing firsthand the impact that skilled teachers can make, inspiring “a sense of wonder, joy, creativity, achievement and success” in a student’s learning.

“I care about children and their right to reach their greatest potential,” Ross said. “Education can and should provide children a powerful opportunity to find purpose and success for their future lives.”

Studies measuring results from tests such as the Alabama Reading and Math Test and the ACT found that First Class Pre-K alumni outperformed their peers who did not attend the program, according to the Alabama School Readiness Alliance.

Ross helped secure a $77.5 million preschool development grant to help fund the state-funded program, which also requires local communities to provide at least 25 percent of the funding to participate.

Also under her leadership, the Office of Early Learning and Family Support division of her department has expanded to serve 4,289 vulnerable families and children through more than $12 million in federal awards.

In all, Ross has led her department in writing and receiving federal grant awards totaling more than $100 million.

She attributes much of her success to the partnerships she has built with other groups serving children and families in Alabama to build a cohesive support system.

“My success has been achieved in a collective effort of devoted educators who, regardless of pay or recognition, work to create experiences where children enjoy through natural curiosity and joyful exploration a love of learning that lasts a lifetime,” Ross said.

Ross is a member of Governor Kay Ivey’s cabinet and was appointed by Governor Bentley in 2012. She advises the governor and state legislature in matters relating to the coordination of services for children under the age of 19 and, among her divisions, also oversees the Children’s Policy Councils, the Children First Trust Fund and the Head Start Collaboration office.

Ross previously served in a variety of education roles in Alabama, including as a central office administrator, assistant principal and classroom teacher. She holds a master’s degree in education leadership from the University of Alabama and a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education from UAB.

“My hope for education in Alabama is for every child to have a competent, sensitive and responsive teacher every day, every year,” Ross said.

As other states look to Ross’s success in Alabama’s early education, she offered three recommendations in a 2017 U.S. Department of Education interview:

“Set high-quality standards, communicate what those are, and demonstrate what they look like; involve parents, businesses and industry leaders in the initiative; and provide supports such as coaching and monitoring to maintain quality,” she said.

Ross and her husband live in Guntersville and Montgomery and have two adult sons and two grandchildren.

Join Ross and special guests from across the state for a Birmingham awards event March 29 honoring the 20 Yellowhammer Women of Impact whose powerful contributions advance Alabama. Details and registration may be found here.

Rachel Blackmon Bryars is managing editor of Yellowhammer News.

1 hour ago

Reward offered in 6-year-old case of Baby Jane Doe

Police found the bones of a little girl six years ago in an Alabama trailer park right next to a long-sleeve pink shirt with heart buttons and a ruffled neckline.

The unidentified girl in the unsolved homicide case has been dubbed Baby Jane Doe. The Lee County District Attorney’s Office announced Thursday up to a $5,000 reward for information leading to an involved person’s conviction.


Lee County District Attorney Brandon Hughes says authorities can begin holding perpetrators accountable once the child is identified.

Opelika Detective Sgt. Alfred White says they have the child’s DNA, but nothing to compare it to. The Opelika-Auburn News reports that police suspect the girl suffered abuse and malnutrition. Police Chief John McEachern says the girl could have easily spent her entire life in captivity.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 hours ago

Alabama Secretary of State to Facebook: ‘Don’t say you helped us with something if you didn’t help’

Secretary of State John Merrill challenged Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s revelation that his company helped disrupt the spreading of false information during Alabama’s special U.S. Senate election last December, telling Yellowhammer News that he has been shown no evidence to support Zuckerberg’s claim.

In an interview published Thursday, Zuckerberg revealed to the New York Times that his company targeted and eliminated a “significant number of fake Macedonian accounts that were trying to spread false news” about Alabama’s election.

Merrill’s office spoke with Facebook’s Government and Politics Team on Thursday to follow up about Zuckerberg’s claims.


“We said, ‘we don’t know what you’re talking about.’ We wanted one specific example,” Merrill said.

Just a week before the election in December, a deceptive campaign ad implying that voters’ ballot selections would be made public was spread on Google and Facebook. Merrill’s office contacted both Google and Facebook and asked for the ad to be removed. Google removed it, but Facebook did not.

Merrill said Facebook never responded about the ad.

“We believe that people in each state need to have accurate information that’s truthful,” Merrill said. “If [Facebook] can’t use their platform for that, they shouldn’t allow that kind of content be published.”

He continued, “For future races, I think it’s important that Facebook be available to address serious issues, for candidates, for officials, and be responsive in that they hear what the accusations are and evaluate merits of the claim.”

Facebook is receiving pressure from all sides after recent reports revealed that it allowed Cambridge Analytica, a private data firm associated with President Donald Trump’s campaign, to mine data of more than 50 million of the platform’s users without their permission.

Merrill said that he hopes the pressure will lead to some change.

“I think they’ll be more responsive,” he said. “The people will hold them more accountable. I hope people will hold them more accountable.”

@jeremywbeaman is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News

2 hours ago

Lawsuit over HealthSouth fraud cleared to move forward

The Alabama Supreme Court says one-time employees of the old HealthSouth Corp. can move ahead with a lawsuit over the fraud that nearly wrecked the Birmingham-based company.

The justices overturned a lower court decision blocking the lawsuit in a decision Friday.


HealthSouth survived a massive fraud scandal in the early 2000s that resulted in the ouster of founder Richard Scrushy. The company now calls itself Encompass Health.

One-time employee shareholders filed suit in 2003 over the fraud, but the case was delayed 11 years. The court now says the latest version of the lawsuit is related to the original complaint and can go forward.

Encompass Health operates 127 hospitals and 237 home health and hospice locations in 36 states and Puerto Rico.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)