New Year’s resolutions were still rolling around in our heads, if not being followed. Traffic was moving at a reasonable Saturday clip, which, in metro Atlanta, means it was moving. And suddenly, an overhead sign on I-85 southbound near Spaghetti Junction announced a harsh reality.
"GEORGIA ROADWAY FATALITIES THIS YEAR: 59," the sign stated in large lighted letters. "PLEASE DRIVE SAFELY."
Twenty-four days into January, could that be right?
This PolitiFact Georgia scribe was curious.
We contacted Natalie Dale, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Transportation, who told us the message board’s numbers were already outdated.
Roadway deaths, statewide, for the new year were updated to 70 by Wednesday, Jan. 28th. Among those killed were seven people in Chatham County, five in Fulton County and four in Hall and Hart counties, according to DOT data.
Eleven were pedestrians, including Gayla Joyce Walker, 53. The Dunwoody woman was struck repeatedly on I-285 in Sandy Springs, prompting an investigation that shut down a portion of the interstate and snarled traffic for more than three hours during morning rush hour on Jan.22.
Two other pedestrians, both over 65, were killed in Fulton County, one on 10th Street and one on Ralph David Abernathy Boulevard, DOT data shows.
If previous trends continue, Fulton, DeKalb, Gwinnett and Cobb, Georgia’s most populous counties, will likely end the year with the highest percentages of roadway deaths.
But the number of roadway fatalities statewide would actually be down.
DOT data shows that roadway deaths in the state have declined slightly year over year -- going from 1,503 in 2008 to 1,147 last year, despite there being nearly a half-million more vehicles on the road.
(The state had 8.5 million registered vehicles in 2008 and just less than 9 million vehicles in 2014, according to data we obtained from the Georgia Department of Revenue).
State officials offer several potential explanations for the decline in roadway deaths.
Dale said safety enhancements, including raised medians, have been DOT priorities.
Raised medians have a track record of reducing all accidents by 55 percent and pedestrian accidents in urban areas by 90 percent, she said.
Harris Blackwood, director of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said greater seatbelt use is likely a factor.
"We’re seeing some of the highest seat belt use -- somewhere north of 95 percent," Blackwood said.
That -- combined with safer cars, stepped-up enforcement of drunken driving laws and graduated drivers’ licenses for young drivers -- could be contributing to fewer roadway deaths, he said.
Interstate message boards are being used to alert the motoring public to the latest data on roadway deaths. That can be quickly changing data. Last year, about three people died each day on Georgia roads. That’s a statistic worth pointing out.
We rate the DOT post True.