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Indiana traffic fatalities up 17 percent since 2019; no recommendations from study committee

A traffic light at an intersection, with the red light illuminated.
Brandon Smith
IPB News
Traffic fatalities are up 17 percent in Indiana since 2019, while speeding tickets and warnings over that same span are down 12 percent.

Traffic fatalities in Indiana are up 17 percent over the last four years, nearing 1,000 people per year.

And while state lawmakers are digging into the data on traffic safety, a study committee adopted its yearly report Wednesday without any recommendations.

Even as fatalities increase, the number of speeding tickets and warnings in Indiana went down 12 percent over the last four years.

Devon McDonald, Indiana Criminal Justice Institute executive director, told lawmakers that’s not because drivers are slowing down.

“I would probably attribute that more to not enough law enforcement officers on the road to truly enforce traffic laws in Indiana,” McDonald said.

McDonald said police enforcement is the primary way to reduce speeding, though the state will soon begin to use speed cameras in a few highway work zones.

Besides speed, McDonald said impaired driving is a major cause of crashes and deaths. And he said drug-impaired driving now exceeds alcohol-impaired driving.

McDonald recommended increased funding for the state’s fairly new toxicology department, while also putting more resources into driver education.

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Study committee vice chair Jim Pressel (R-Rolling Prairie) said he’s interested in that idea, whether by expanding the training provided to new drivers or implementing more ongoing training.

“Instead of never taking a test forever, we should do that every six years,” Pressel said. “Maybe it’s more informational than a test. I’m just speculating; nothing I’ve got planned.”

The Indiana Department of Transportation told lawmakers that reducing serious crashes by at least 25 percent over the next 10 years is a main goal for the agency.

One of the primary ways it can do that is through alternative intersections, such as roundabouts and what are known as RCIs, or reduced conflict intersections. RCI’s involve U-turns in medians as a way to reduce left turns across oncoming traffic.

INDOT Legislative Director Andrea Zimmerman said there are 11 such intersections in Indiana and they’ve seen an 81 percent reduction in crashes. Still, she noted they face serious opposition in many communities.

“It’s new. People struggle with something new,” Zimmerman said. “Another piece that we hear about is, ‘It doesn’t fit for our community. Our community has had this intersection open for our entire lives.’”

Pressel said he doesn’t think there’s a legislative solution to that issue, simply a need for more education.

Brandon is our Statehouse bureau chief. Contact him at bsmith@ipbs.org or follow him on Twitter at @brandonjsmith5.

Brandon Smith has covered the Statehouse for Indiana Public Broadcasting for more than a decade, spanning three governors and a dozen legislative sessions. He's also the host of Indiana Week in Review, a weekly political and policy discussion program seen and heard across the state. He previously worked at KBIA in Columbia, Missouri and WSPY in Plano, Illinois. His first job in radio was in another state capitol - Jefferson City, Missouri - as a reporter for three stations around the Show-Me State.