Fatal crashes drop 40 percent in Jackson County

Fatal traffic crashes in Jackson County dropped nearly 40 percent last year, leading to the lowest number of deaths in recent years, according the National Safety Council. Nationwide, traffic statistics showed a 10 percent decrease in traffic deaths.

Young male drivers were the most likely to both cause and be killed in the fatal crashes, the data showed.

"That's the norm across the nation," said Sgt. Marty Clark, supervisor of the county sheriff's office traffic team.

There were 14 fatal crashes killing 16 victims in 2009. Of the 16 deaths, 15 victims were male. Of the drivers at fault, 13 were male. Drugs and alcohol were involved in half of the crashes.

"I think that age (group), especially with males, takes more risks and some of those risks are driving fast. And when we add alcohol to it, bad things happen," Clark said.

The 16 deaths were the lowest in the seven-year study released by the National Safety Council. Traffic deaths in the county for the previous six years were: 2003, 29; 2004, 45; 2005, 32; 2006, 21; 2007, 17; and 2008, 26.

The study comes out just in time for the Memorial Day weekend, a prime time for travel and traffic accidents, he said.

"We're stepping up patrols over the weekend," Clark said. "We are doing a DUI (driving under the influence) saturation, along with Medford and OSP and other agencies."

Clark said announcing the increased patrols is part of a strategy to save lives.

"If we get the word out there, hopefully people will get a designated driver or stay home," Clark said.

The Jackson County Sheriff's Department began its traffic team in 2004, Clark said. The steady reduction in traffic fatalities since that time is due in large part to increased enforcement of traffic laws by all agencies, reconstruction of crashes and public education programs, he said.

"It's been a team approach, which is nice because we work good together," said Clark.

"The sheriff's traffic team begun in 2004 started with one sergeant and one traffic deputy. Today, we have one sergeant and five deputies."

Weekends are generally the deadliest times to be on the roads. Statistic show the majority of drug- and alcohol-related crashes occurred between 6 p.m. Friday and 2 a.m. Monday, Clark said.

"We will be making a concentrated effort to be working the hours when drunk drivers are going to be out there," Clark said, adding patrols will be targeting areas near businesses that serve alcohol.

"We will try to get these drunk drivers off the road before they hurt somebody."

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 541-776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.

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