Traffic fatality rates decline: ‘Drive to Zero’ plan credited
by GREG KAYLOR Banner Staff Writer
Aug 11, 2014 | 919 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Col. Tracy Trott
Col. Tracy Trott
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An excellent working relationship between state agencies and local law enforcement is one element Col. Tracy Trott credits for bringing area traffic fatality rates down since 2010.

In an interview with the Cleveland Daily Banner, Trott said a drastic change has been seen in the statistical data since he took the helm of the Tennessee Highway Patrol in 2010.

Trott was a patrol trooper. He witnessed the carnage at the scene of fatal crashes, and experienced the heartbreak of having to tell family and loved ones that there had been a tragedy which would affect them the rest of their lives.

Through those experiences, Trott worked to formulate a plan for the THP.

Although data and statistics are a very impersonal part of the program designed to save lives in Tennessee, “We have got to remember that the numbers represent a name — a father, mother, daughter, son, or any other family member, or even a friend,” Trott explained.

The “Drive to Zero” campaign was adopted and is in all states, according to Trott.

It is designed to cut traffic fatality rates to zero.

“No trooper or other law enforcement agency officer plans to go out on their shift and have to investigate a fatal crash or have to make death notifications,” Trott said. “Our goal is to make each and every shift a ‘zero’ day where they have to do this.”

The road to Charleston has been a hot spot for traffic-related fatalities during the past few years.

Just a few years ago, former Bradley County Sheriff Dan Gilley stated the “hot spot” was Highway 60, Georgetown to the city limits, then Highway 60, Dalton Pike.

The “hot spot” shifted along with a trending pattern of the cause.

DUI enforcement and seat belt enforcement and education have been credited with cutting the numbers of fatal crashes.

Programs implemented by Trott and the THP have produced significantly lower fatality counts due to heavier DUI concentration enforcement and education — of both public users of highways, roadways and interstates, as well as the troopers and other law agencies who take part in saving lives by enforcing laws.

Trott explained that in 2010, some 3,300 arrests were made by troopers for DUI violations. At present, arrests have increased by 168 percent, or 8,000.

“It is a data-driven approach. We were reactive instead of proactive,” in the past, Trott said.

With a proactive approach came the institution of a software model through which data is still collected and analyzed, but a more scientific approach by administrators is cast. For example, locations are recorded where a concentration of problems may call for more troopers to be present for DUI or seat belt checkpoints.

Seat belt usage is also up, Trott indicated. Citations for lack of use are also up, but the enforcement has also shown a positive trend in the number of drivers using their restraints.

A trooper who must work a fatal wreck scene can’t realize what his or work at a DUI or Seat Belt Checkpoint has done until they can see the data.

“A lot of people are working in Tennessee to make sure our drivers and passengers have safe roads and travel,” Trott said. “Tennessee Department of Transportation is one of those agencies who works with us and the data that we collect.”

Changes along North Lee Highway are coming.

Tennessee Department of Transportation is preparing to install a traffic signal at the intersection of Lauderdale Memorial Highway and North Lee. A number of other changes south of the intersection are also in the planning stages which will improve roadway safety.

As Trott commented, a trooper or law enforcement officer can’t realize the work they have done until data can be analyzed.

“There are a lot of people walking around today because of the education and enforcement since 2010 when we began being more proactive. The numbers show the decrease in traffic fatalities and the increased efforts in DUI arrests and upward trend in seat belt use,” Trott said.

“The Chattanooga District (which is Bradley County’s district as well) indicated a 24 percent decrease in traffic deaths. The district was honored for that earlier this year at our banquet in Nashville,” Trott said.

One dangerous trend has shifted crash data.

Texting or other distracted driving has been found to be a leading factor in causing devastating crashes.

THP utilizes a number of resources including an 18-wheeler (also used for commercial enforcement) to look in on drivers.

“We had an inconsequential discovery when we began using SUVs,” said Trott.

When the state began to employ the SUVs, troopers learned they can observe drivers who may be texting or observe other distractions related to driving.

“We have also had to address and train our troopers. We require a trooper to be able to use radar, monitor computers, man radios and even talk on issued cell phones while they are on patrol,” Trott explained. “We recently purchased hands-free devices to alleviate some of this.

“Troopers want direction and have a passion for keeping everyone safe. It is essential to what we do, working with other state agencies,” Trott said.

“We couldn’t write enough tickets to change all the driving behavior to make all the roadways safer without working with these other agencies. It is an intertwined effort and TDOT has seen the need for changes as well,” he added.

Trott said TDOT has secured a grant to work together with law enforcement.

“They are building us a training ground for troopers and others to study interstate system issues and train for interstate emergency response,” Trott said. “Tennessee is being looked at worldwide for what we have done and what we are doing for the future of our driving public and safety.”

Trott currently holds the second vice-chair of the International Associations of Police Chiefs. In two years, he will be in the chairman’s seat to lead the international organization.

“Drivers have to realize how dangerous it can be when driving [under the influence of alcohol or drugs], without a seat belt or being distracted,” Trott said.

He also said there are many more young and not quite as experienced drivers, and that population growth adds to higher traffic counts and crashes.

Through his forethought in being able to establish data-driven enforcement and driver education, Trott is optimistic the downward trend to “Zero” can show “Zero” fatalities 365 days a year in every county in the state.

As for Bradley County, a dramatic decrease in fatalities in 2013 caught the eyes of the state.