Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Traffic Fatalities Increase Deaths Attributed to Driving Attitudes

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Traffic Fatalities Increase Deaths Attributed to Driving Attitudes

Article excerpt

A teenager runs off the road, fatally smashing her car into a tree. A tire blowout on a sports utility vehicle leaves a 10-year-old dead. A 4-year-old dies after a vehicle she's a passenger in collides head-on with another car.

All three girls were killed in separate wrecks last weekend in Northeast Florida, a weekend that left four people dead and pushed Duval County's fatality rate past the total number of fatal wrecks in all of 1998.

Saturday's deaths of Athena Lingenfelser, 10, and Gary Whadley, 45, in separate accidents raised Duval County's fatality rate to 104, compared with 102 people killed in the county last year.

The number of fatal wrecks peaked in 1996 at 124.

In St. Johns County, Sarah Squires, 4, died in a wreck on U.S. 1, leaving that county with 40 traffic fatalities so far this year, compared with 30 for all of last year.

In Clay County, 14 fatalities have been recorded so far this year, compared with 23 in 1998. In Nassau County, 17 fatalities have been reported so far this year, compared with 28 last year.

The increase in fatalities in Duval and St. Johns counties mirrors the trend statewide where 2,370 traffic deaths have been reported in Florida so far this year, compared with 2,328 at the same time last year. Florida had 2,885 traffic fatalities in 1998.

State troopers blame the rise in traffic fatalities on an increase in traffic and road construction and fewer people wearing seat belts.

Lt. Bill Leeper, a Florida Highway Patrol spokesman, said as more people move into Florida, traffic will continue to grow, and aggressive driving seems to be on the upswing.

Highway Patrol surveys revealed fewer people are using safety belts, he said. Those surveys also indicate that when an adult doesn't wear a safety belt, child passengers most likely won't wear one, either.

"Seat belts can save hundreds of lives each year in the state of Florida," Leeper said. …

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