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Fatalities on roadways increase to a ‘very concerning’ 18

RADAR SIGNS on Montgomery Avenue remind motorists when they’re going too fast on the neighborhood street, which has a posted speed limit of 25 miles per hour. (Photo by Bob Vlach)

The 18 fatalities resulting from automobile crashes during the first 10 months of this year far surpasses the five people killed on Woodford County roadways through Nov. 1 in 2019, according to accident data provided by the Versailles Police Department. Assistant Chief Rob Young described the number of fatalities this year as “very concerning.” To address the poor driving behaviors that often result in crashes, the Versailles Police Department has stepped up its traffic enforcement efforts, he said. “It’s our families and friends that are out there on these streets and we want to keep them safe,” said Young. Versailles Mayor Brian Traugott wrote a letter included with the water bills of residents stating his concerns with the high number of fatalities and noticeable increase in unsafe driving behaviors. “Among the worst calls I get as mayor are the ones informing me that someone has been injured or killed in a wreck,” he wrote. “I can only imagine the pain of a call like that to the victim’s families and friends.” It’s a police officer who often talks to families of those killed or seriously injured in traffic accidents, Young said. “And that is a very unfortunate and unpleasant part of the job, but it is part of the job,” he said. “We’re human,” added Versailles Police Chief Mike Murray, “we’ve got feelings and emotions, and when you respond to a scene where there’s someone who’s been killed that’s somebody’s child or son or daughter or parent ...” Other first responders must deal with those same emotions when working the scenes of serious automobile crashes. “It’s extremely stressful for my crews, because they’re there to save lives,” said Freeman Bailey, director of Woodford County Emergency Medical Services. “… So it’s really hard on them.” He described 2020 as unprecedented in terms of the high number of traffic fatalities. Young said since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, he’s noticed a significant increase in complaints of speeders, aggressive drivers and motorists running stoplights, which he described as pervasive. There are a number of theories on why, but one seems to prevail, he said. “A lot of (law enforcement) agencies in order to protect (the health of) their staff, they likely scaled back their traffic enforcement efforts; and maybe this is a result of that,” said Young. Versailles Police officers had eased off traffic enforcement to minimize their contacts with the public during the onset of the pandemic, Murray said. He said enforcement has been stepped up in an effort to decrease the number of serious crashes. “We just saw such an increase in collisions,” said Murray, “we felt an obligation to get out here and try to save some lives.” The number of people injured in traffic accidents this year from Jan. 1 to Nov. 1 has also climbed when compared to the first 10 months of last year – from 109 to 123, according to police data. The total number of all traffic accidents during that timeframe has declined to 687 from last year’s 860. People staying home and working remotely were likely factors in that decrease, Murray agreed. Young said there are a lot of armchair psychologists who would say people wanted to regain control of something in their lives in the midst of a pandemic, and that’s why they may be driving in an unsafe manner. “People are frustrated this year,” Traugott said. Drivers may have also gotten used to lighter traffic volumes when people were not traveling to work or elsewhere earlier in the year, he added. In an effort to curb speeding, the City of Versailles recently purchased four radar signs to remind drivers of their speed and when they’re driving “too fast” or need to “slow down.” “Maybe its driver inattention that they’re not noticing what their speed is and hopefully these signs will impact that,” said Young. The signs also collect data, including times of day when there are more speeders on a roadway, he said. Young said patrol officers are doing what they can to keep the roadways safe, but they can’t be everywhere all the time. “With a smaller department, we don’t have a dedicated traffic unit,” said Young. “And we have to prioritize calls. So when officers aren’t on a higher priority call, we like them to be visible out there as a deterrent to poor driving behavior.” Officers may issue tickets to enforce traffic laws, but “we do issue a fair amount of warnings in addition to just issuing a citation,” he said. “I’d like to have an officer on every trouble intersection, but it’s just not physically possible to do so, given our staffing levels,” said Young. Typically, five to eight officers are on each shift in a county covering 192 square miles, he added. New streetlights will soon be erected on Lexington Road near both Kroger entrances and elsewhere to improve visibility. Combined with reducing the speed limit in that area last year, the safety measures have the potential to save lives, Traugott said. Complaints about poor driving behaviors often come from motorists on major thoroughfares like Lexington Road (U.S. 60), Winter Street/Midway Road (U.S. 62) and Huntertown Road, but residential neighborhoods, including Sycamore Estates and Stonegate, are not immune, Young said. The city’s four radar signs, each costing about $3,800 including installation, were placed along Montgomery and Kentucky avenues because those are high-complaint areas for excessive speeding, Murray said. “We tend to forget the awesome responsibility that comes with driving a 2,000-pound projectile. That is an awesome responsibility,” said Young. He said other violations on the rise include driving without a valid license, registration or insurance. Young said younger drivers are more likely to believe they are invincible and will not be the ones killed in a vehicle crash. “The reality is,” he explained, “is that they are more likely to be killed. That’s why young people’s insurance rates are so much higher.” Driving while distracted – texting, blasting music or having fun with friends in a moving vehicle – has real, “sometimes very sad consequences,” said Young. He recently talked to his 17-year-old son, who has his learner’s permit, about driving the posted speed limit. “You’re not experienced and the conditions right now are not for 45 miles per hour. So what that means is you don’t go the limit. Back off, slow down. Get there a few seconds later,” he told Brody, a junior at Woodford County High School. “… He understood, but initially his thought was if it says 45, you’re supposed to go 45 miles per hour …” Rural roads with no shoulders can also pose a danger to motorists, Murray explained. “Because if you go off the road on some of these two lane roads … you’re either going to hit a rock wall, a tree, a fence. You don’t have much room to make a correction.” Kentucky’s Click It or Ticket campaign reminding motorists to wear seatbelts through increased enforcement continues through Nov. 29. “That’s such an easy violation to stop somebody for,” said Murray, “but seatbelts save lives.” While some may view issuing tickets as a way to generate revenue for the city, Traugott said Versailles only receives an average of $20,000 to $25,000 annually in court costs, including non-traffic violations. “So it is one-half of one percent of the police budget that’s funded by that (revenue),” he said. It’s the human cost of fatality and serious motor vehicle crashes that compelled Traugott to write a letter asking residents to slow down and follow the traffic laws. “Driving,” he wrote, “is a privilege and we’re all responsible for each other.”

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