OHP reports increase, not decrease in 2001 traffic deaths

Wednesday, January 23rd 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Early returns that showed the number of deaths on Oklahoma roads declined in 2001 were incorrect, the Oklahoma Highway Patrol said Tuesday.

The 671 people who died in accidents last year surpassed the 662 deaths reported in 2000, Lt. Chris West said. It is the first increase in fatal crashes since 1997.

In a preliminary report earlier this month, the patrol reported 653 deaths in the state in 2001. The Department of Public Safety attributed the difference in the number of deaths to reporting delays by police and sheriff's departments across the state.

The total could keep going up until all reports are in, said Cecilia Alsobrook, a spokeswoman for the federally funded Oklahoma Highway Safety Office.

``We would have liked to have seen a decrease, but we didn't get it,'' West said.

In 1997 there were 846 fatal wrecks in the state. A mandatory seat belt law took effect in November of that year, and in 1998 the number of deaths from wrecks dropped to 769. The number dropped to 747 deaths in 1999.

Population growth may have played a role in the increase. West said there are more people driving state roadways.

About 68 percent of Oklahomans wear seat belts, West said. Troopers would like to see 80 percent of people in vehicles buckled up.

``We still believe seat belt compliance is the main thing if we're going to get back on the right track,'' West said.

Speeding is the main cause of crashes, but wearing a seat belt can increase the odds of surviving a crash by 80 percent to 90 percent, West said.

``The common denominator is we've got to get more people putting on seat belts,'' West said.