So far this year, 450 people have died on Georgia roads, including people in cars, on bikes and on foot.
Traffic fatalities in Georgia are up in 2015 after declining for nine years. In the first quarter of this year there were 25 percent more deaths than the first quarter of last year, according to the state Department of Transportation.
“If that was the cold, a flu or some kind of medical epidemic, that would be the lead story each evening on the headline news,” Russell McMurry, commissioner of GDOT, said.
Sixty percent of the fatal crashes this year have happened when a single vehicle hit something like a tree or a bridge.
“If it’s a single-vehicle crash, not always, but most of the time, it’s directly attributed to that driver’s behavior,” said Mark Perry of the Georgia Department of Public Safety.
It’s illegal to text while driving in Georgia, but Harris Blackwood, commissioner of the Governor’s Office of Highway Safety, said it’s difficult to ticket drivers for doing it, since they may just be dialing their phones or checking their GPS. He said he’d like to see texting while driving be as stigmatized as drunk driving.
“Mothers Against Drunk Driving succeeded in making drunk driving an unacceptable behavior on the roads of America,” said Blackwood. “We have got to find a way to make texting and driving an unacceptable behavior.”
State officials are also hoping to increase seatbelt use. Though 95 percent of people in the state wear seatbelts, according to Blackwood, more than 60 percent of the people killed in crashes in the first quarter of this year didn’t have one on.
The state is launching an awareness campaign about traffic fatalities, and beginning next week, the state patrol is planning on cracking down on people not wearing seatbelts.