Louisiana's negative distinction for deadly hit-and-run crashes: An in-depth look
NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Hundreds of thousands of vehicles travel Louisiana roads and highways each day, but the behavior of some drivers has left Louisiana with a negative distinction.
"There's a lot of things that need to happen - better education, following the laws," said Dan Favre, Executive Director of Bike Easy, an advocacy organization for bicycling safety.
Sadly, some drivers not only break the rules of the road, they also do not stop after being involved in crashes that result in injuries or even death.
"About 2,000 people being killed in 2016 by hit and run," said Don Redman of AAA as he spoke of the nationwide tally.
According to the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, more than one hit-and-run crash happens every minute.
For Louisiana, the news is disturbing: Per capita, Louisiana is second in the nation for its rate of fatal hit-and-run accidents. New Mexico has the number one spot and Florida is third.
Behind the statistics is the human pain of the survivors of such incidents. Recently, police said a hit-and-run driver killed 42-year-old grandmother Sandra Royer.
"I'm angry. I'm so angry because I don't think - it's not hard to stop," said the victim's daughter, Emilie Royer.
Overall, AAA said an average of 682,000 hit-and-run crashes occurred each year in the U.S. since 2006, and 65% of those killed were pedestrians and bicyclists.
"The numbers around hit-and-runs really speak to what we've known all along, that we really need to keep working hard to make sure that all people on the roadways are safe, especially those vulnerable road users like people biking, people walking, or people with disabilities," said Favre.
The organization he leads works to educate both bicyclists and drivers about road safety.
"The biggest thing for people driving is to make sure that you slow down around people walking and biking. The biggest thing for people biking is to make sure that you follow the rules of the road, in particular, making sure that you ride in the direction of traffic."
FOX 8 News delved deeper into Louisiana's ranking as one of the deadliest states for hit-and-run accidents. Data provided by State Police from the Highway Safety Research Group shows the number of victims of fatal hit-and-run crashes over a five-year period:
2013, 36 fatal hit-and-run victims
2014, 42 fatal hit-and-run victims
2015, 41 fatal hit-and-run victims
2016, 42 fatal hit-and-run victims
2017 48 fatal hit-and-run victims
"Our numbers don't appear significant, we're talking about 42 individuals in 2016 were killed by hit-and-run…But if you look at that as a ratio per 100,000 residents that puts us number two in the nation, in terms of ratio of people being killed by hit-and-run drivers," Redman said.
But one life is too many.
"Forty plus, per year in one state, that's incredible that people will kill somebody and take off and run," said La. Insurance Commissioner Jim Donelon.
The Louisiana Highway Safety Commission said data collected and analyzed by the Highway Safety Research Group shows:
22.6 fatalities per 100,000 licensed drivers in Orleans Parish
26.0 fatalities per 100,000 licensed drivers in Louisiana
Across the state, hit-and-run accidents also injure thousands of people on Louisiana roads.
Additional data from the Highway Safety Research Group, an entity funded by the La. Department of Transportation, shows the level of hit-and-run accident injuries over a five-year period:
3,432 injuries in 2013
3,687 injuries in 2014
4,155 injuries in 2015
4,346 injuries in 2016
4,211 injuries in 2017
"Some of these can be life-changing injuries and they are serious," said Redman.
In New Orleans alone, data from the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission shows as of December 571,153 vehicles are registered in Orleans Parish, alone.
Over the past five years the New Orleans Police Department responded to about 5,000 hit-and-run accidents per year.
Specifically, the numbers are:
2013 – 5,262 incidents
2014 – 4,996 incidents
2015 – 5,512 incidents
2016 – 5,211 incidents
2017 – 5,169 incidents
Impaired driving including being under the influence of drugs and alcohol has long contributed to accidents, but distracted driving is now a factor, too.
"Distracted driving is a big concern and we've seen in the past three years the number of fatalities on the roadway nationally have increased by six to 7% annually, now for 50 years we've been seeing a steady decline in fatalities and here in the past few years, three years we're seeing those numbers climbing back up again and one of the big obvious causes are the distractions, if you will, are the cell phones," said Redman.
While Donelon does not believe the sheer number of hit-and-run fatalities are a driver of Louisiana's high auto insurance rates, he stressed that accidents in general do drive up rates for all insured drivers.
"We have been in my entire career, my 19 years in the Legislature and my 11 years as commissioner a top five state for auto insurance rates," Donelon stated.
He said urban areas like New Orleans and Baton Rouge accelerate the problem.
"And that's the four-parish area of New Orleans, Orleans, Jefferson, St. Bernard and Plaquemines, 25% higher than auto insurance costs than the statewide average and the four-parish area of Baton Rouge, East and West Baton Rouge, Ascension and Livingston Parishes, 13% higher than the statewide average," said Donelon.
Donelon said the propensity for lawsuits does not help insurance rates.
"Frankly, it's driven by our working poor population.We have a larger concentration of poorer folks in those areas, and as a result when they're in the, when they're involved and are victims of a minor collision they are much more prone to take up one of those advertising lawyer's invitation to get a windfall out of a minor accident with minimum injuries."
Back at the BikeEasy headquarters, Favre illustrated biking signals.
"The big ones are just point in the direction that you turn, so whichever way you're going to turn, if you're slowing down you do your hand down like this and if you can't point with one hand which way you're going you can put the other hand straight up and that'll say that you're turning that way," said Favre.
Because even though many streets have bike lanes and crosswalk statistics show cyclists and pedestrians overwhelmingly are victims of hit-and-run drivers.
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