With the Great Recession of late last decade came at least one benefit, a significant decline in traffic fatalities in Illinois and nationwide.
They’ve risen back with the improving economy, guaranteeing the state’s return to 1,000-plus this year in road-related deaths.
Hoping to counter the trend, the General Assembly brings with New Year’s Day an expansion of a law protecting vehicles stopped for emergencies on highways. Uninsured drivers are targeted in another new law.
The Illinois State Police, meanwhile, remind drivers they’ll get a trip to jail, not a mere ticket, if they’re caught at high speeds through school and construction zones.
Motorists already are required to slow down or change lanes when approaching an emergency vehicle, such as a police car or ambulance, that is stopped along a road with its emergency lights activated.
Beginning Sunday, the so-called “Scott’s Law” will also apply to any vehicle on a roadside with its hazard lights on.
“If you see flashing lights ahead,” regardless of whether the vehicle is an emergency responder or a car with a flat tire, “please move over or slow down,” State Police Director Leo Schmitz said in a news release Thursday.
Uninsured drivers should also know their vehicles will be impounded the next time they’re stopped with no insurance.
State law will now require a vehicle to be towed if its driver has no insurance and has been convicted of driving without insurance within the past year.
Schmitz also promised “emphasized” enforcement of a law that took effect last January that classifies driving 26 to 35 mph over the speed limit in school and work zones as a Class B misdemeanor and over 35 mph in the Class A category. Both cases require the driver’s arrest.
With two days left in the year, the state had recorded 1,064 traffic fatalities. It was the highest total since 2008, when 1,043 people were killed on Illinois’ roads.
The state saw a startling 12.7-percent drop to 911 deaths in 2009, when the nationwide recession took full effect. Experts attributed the drop in significant part to fewer miles driven, and by fewer young drivers, as families tightened their spending. Illinois had not seen a year with fewer than 1,000 traffic deaths since 1921.
The numbers began to climb back toward that milestone after 2011. When 998 deaths were recorded in 2015, state and insurance industry analysts said the thousand mark was all but inevitable this year.
In comparison, Illinois logged 1,994 traffic deaths in 1980 and 1,589 a decade later, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.
Tazewell and Peoria counties recorded 11 and 16 road-related fatalities this year, respectively, the same in both cases as in 2015.
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