DES MOINES, Iowa -- This New Year's Eve, the Iowa Department of Transportation message board reads, “315 traffic deaths this year.” As it stands, that is the lowest number in more than seven decades.
“You have to go back all the way to 1944 when we had 310 (traffic deaths), so obviously the numbers for Iowa in traffic fatalities are trending in the right direction,” said Patrick Hoye, the chief of the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau.
The last time Iowa was even close to this number it was back in 2013 at 317 deaths. Hoye says several factors go into this low number, including steps that legislation made.
“The primary texting law, the 24/7 sobriety bill that was passed, the ignition interlock device,” Hoye said.
Iowa State Patrol Sgt. Nathan Ludwig says seatbelts are also playing a role, with more Iowans buckling up than ever before.
“Our compliance rate of seatbelts is at an all-time high at almost 94 percent,” Sgt. Ludwig said. But Sgt. Ludwig says this low number in fatalities is deceiving because while deaths are down, accidents are up.
“Just the state patrol, we’ve covered about 500 more accidents this year than a year ago this time. So [we are] still seeing people drive fast, still seeing people texting and driving and being distracted,” Sgt. Ludwig said.
Travelers at a rest stop in Bondurant agree. “The numbers show that it is going down, but in my witnessing, I’ve seen quite a few people on their phones still and not paying attention when changing lanes and stuff like that,” Kyle Perrin said.
Still, less Iowans are dying due to car crashes, and that's something to toast to this New Year’s Eve, but state workers say there is still work to be done.
“At the end of the day, although fatalities are coming down, as the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau, are we happy where we are at? Absolutely not,” Hoye said.