Wreck

The wailing of sirens and sight of emergency responders racing across local roads is often a dash to the scene of traffic accidents.

Cullman County, according to Senior Trooper Chuck Daniel of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, is high on the state radar for deadly accidents and injuries.

The death toll on county roads and Interstate 65 as of June 20 stood at five fatalities. Daniel said traffic deaths in Cullman County are slightly behind the trend of the last two year, but he said that is attributable to there being fewer multiple fatalities from individual crashes, so far. The figures documented by ALEA do not include accidents worked by the Cullman Police Department.

ALEA’s figures show that from January 2017 to June 20 this year, 53 people have died on county roads and the interstate locally. The deaths were among 5,881 crashes troopers investigated.

“Cullman County is always one of the top in the state for fatalities and injuries,” Daniel said. “I don’t how many county roads there are, but a lot of people are on those roads and that’s where the majority of the wrecks occur, more than the interstate.

Troopers work accidents along the interstate and Cullman County roads, while the Cullman Police Department handles Alabama 157 and U.S. 31 as well as other roads inside the city limit. The Cullman County Sheriff’s Office assists troopers at crashes.

Daniel said wrecks this year worked by his agency statewide total 15,282, which is an increase of 400 over this time last year. The wrecks have resulted in 5,836 injuries, a few more than 2018.

“We can always attribute a lot of the deaths and injuries to speed and not wearing seatbelts,” Daniel said. “Distracted driving, which can include electronic devices and other factors, is harder to determine, but we know it is a growing problem. Alcohol and drug use also remain larger factors, which can contribute to speeding, bad judgments and distraction.”

Of the 233 fatalities statewide this year, 179 of the victims were not wearing seat belts, he said.

“We stress that your chances of surviving a crash are greatly reduced if you do not wear seat belts properly. It’s much more difficult to die in a crash if you wear a seat belt,” Daniel said.

Daniel said the top months for vehicle crashes are underway.

“The time from late May, when schools let out to late August when they return is about a 100-day period. That’s when the most wrecks, injuries and fatalities occur,” Daniel said. “Holidays are a major time for accidents. We’re coming up on July 4 and we want drivers to remember that speed, impairment, distraction and not wearing restraint are the factors in injuries and deaths.”

The Cullman Police Department, with fewer miles of roads to cover but heavy traffic conditions, has worked nearly 2,200 vehicle crashes since January 2017.

Among those accidents, 402 injuries and seven fatalities were documented.

Officer Joey Duncan, a traffic homicide specialist, said the leading cause of accidents in the city is drivers following too closely to other vehicles. Improper lane changes, failure to yield right of way and running a traffic signal are the other leading causes, in that order, he said.

“We’re seeing the largest increase of accidents as running traffic signs,” Duncan said. “We also believe a lot of accidents are related to distraction, whether it’s using a device or something else. But the state law is almost unenforceable. Unless an officer directly spots someone texting, it can’t hold up. I hope we soon get a law that allows us to be more effective in addressing distracted driving.”

Duncan said the peak time for accidents in the city is 3-5 p.m.

“That’s when we see at least 25 percent of the accidents we work,” he said.

In 2017, Cullman documented no fatalities, but 2018 had six deaths from vehicle crashes. There has been one fatality this year.

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David Palmer has decades of experience in the newspaper industry. He currently serves as editor of The Cullman Times.