Los Angeles and San Francisco roads may conjure up images of traffic nightmares, but according to 2007 state traffic data, the worst place to take a drive in California is in the city of Sacramento.
Based on population, Sacramento had the most fatal and injury-inducing collisions in 2008. Almost 4,000 people were injured or killed. The data for 2009 has just been released and will be analyzed by the end of 2010, said Wayne Ziese, spokesperson for the California Office of Traffic Safety.
Comparatively, Davis – in a smaller population group than Sacramento – saw just over 200 car injuries or fatalities.
Traffic data also shows 10 percent of Sacramento collisions are alcohol-related.
“Sacramento relies heavily on vehicles,” said Silas Miers, program specialist at Mothers Against Drunk Driving. “[There is] a high concentration of bars and people travel all the way to downtown [Sacramento] from suburbs and don’t think about how they are going to get home.”
Despite high accident numbers, Sacramento police have upped their efforts in the past year to keep drunk drivers off the road, Miers said.
“Statistics take a while to catch up,” he said. “As we continue to see these numbers we’ll see a significant decline in [DUI cases] in general. [Enforcement] has been very successful, but one death is just too many for us.”
City of Sacramento traffic engineer Hector Barron said Sacramento is tackling the city’s low ranking, though it may take more time for changes to be seen.
“Changing those numbers will take some time,” Barron said. “The city of Sacramento has really changed over the years and how we build our roadways.”
The city has developed a multi-faceted plan to create safer roads and made various policy changes, he said.
“[There’s a] big shift to how we design our roadways,” Barron said. “[Plans] ensure there’s space for cars, pedestrians and bikes.”
New street standards are part of the city’s bigger goals, but on a day-to-day basis Barron said engineers keep safety a high priority.
“The approach we take these days is, ‘Let’s try to improve traffic safety,'” he said. “Even when we are doing maintenance we see it as opportunity to improve safety.”
Improvements include reducing number of lanes or adding lanes, changing lane widths and maintenance.
In a different statewide study of traffic safety, the Highway Loss Data Institute looked for improvements in California collision rates after the state, along with Washington D.C., Connecticut and New York, implemented a ban on hand-held cell phone use while driving. In California, the ban took effect in July 2008.
The study found there has been no change in traffic patterns since the law took effect, said Russ Rader, spokesman for the Highway Loss Data Institute.
“Our role is do research to guide lawmakers in enacting sensible policy,” Rader said. “It makes sense to look if these laws are effective.”
The research is preliminary and based on insurance reports of every 100 cars. The next step in researching California traffic safety is to look at the effect of text messaging bans in vehicles, Rader said.
Distracted driving may be part of Sacramento’s safety problems along with drunk driving, but Barron and Mier both said a key way to improve driving is through enforcement. Sacramento only has about 20 traffic enforcement advisors, said Barron.
SASHA LEKACH can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.