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Number of fatal car accidents in Oregon has been trending upward

With Christmas and New Year’s coming up, Oregon State Police Lieutenant Steve Mitchell wants to remind people to stay off the roads if they’ll be drinking.

The number of fatal crashes in Oregon has been increasing in recent years, according to data from the Oregon Department of Transportation. Mitchell said lower gas prices are making people drive more, and that may be a factor in the rising number of fatal crashes. The prevalence of traffic crashes, including those that become fatal, fluctuates from year to year, Mitchell said. But he added that having more state patrol officers on the road plays a role in reducing dangerous driving.

Accidents with at least one fatality in Oregon hit a 10-year high in 2016 — 448, according to ODOT. That’s a nine percent increase from the previous year. It’s also a 50 percent increase from the 10-year low in 2013. There were 292 fatal crashes in both 2013 and 2010.

There was a 10 percent decline in the number of fatal crashes from 2016 to 2017, however — 403. The 10-year average was 448.

The total number of traffic fatalities also hit a 10-year high in 2016. That year, 498 people died in crashes.

ODOT hasn’t published fatal crash data online for 2018 because it takes at least a year to finalize the numbers, according to Robin Ness, ODOT crash data analyst. She said the numbers change because people injured in a crash may be taken to a hospital in another state and die there later, for example.

There have been 441 traffic fatalities in 2018, according to preliminary data collected by Ness.

“There are a lot of factors that go into the dips and the trends,” Mitchell said. “But one of the most obvious ones was when we dipped to about 300 (fatal crashes). That was one of those years when gas prices were astronomically high. With gas prices being high you’re going to have less vehicles on the road.”

There was a downward trend in the number of fatal crashes starting in 2008. From 2007 to 2008, the number of fatal crashes deceased by 10 percent. Oregon’s highest recorded average gas price occurred in July 2008 when it hit $4.29 per gallon, according to the American Automobile Association.

The number of fatal crashes continued to decrease from 2008 to 2010 and stayed around 300 between 2010 and 2013 while gas prices hovered below $4.00 per gallon.

Lower gas prices have coincided with an increase in the number of fatal crashes recently, but driver choices play a big role in traffic fatalities, Mitchell said.

“We came up, as an agency, with the five behaviors we believe constitute the most fatal crashes and serious injury crashes,” Mitchell said.

The behaviors are speeding, occupant safety (seatbelts and car seats), lane safety, impaired driving and distracted driving.

Mitchell said road conditions also play a role in the number of crashes. People tend to slow down and drive less when the weather is more hazardous, according to Mitchell.

The prevalence of impaired driving due to alcohol and drugs has decreased in the 20 years Mitchell has been an officer, he said. But distracted driving has increased because of cell phones and the amount of technology on people’s car dash boards, he said.

This summer the Oregon legislature increased penalties for distracted driving. First-time offenders can be fined up to $1,000. The fine is rises to $2,500 for second time offenders or first-time offenders if the violation caused a crash.

“Distracted driving is a huge deal,” Mitchell said. “Especially with young kids.”

It’s also one of the hardest things to enforce, he said.

“If you see a marked patrol car and you’re speeding, what’s your instinct?” Mitchell said. “Slow down. So if you see a marked car and you’re talking on you cell phone, you’re going to put it down.”

Besides encouraging people to be more safe, having more patrol officers out on the highways is the biggest way to reduce crashes, he said, because people respond to seeing patrol cars.

The number of working officers may also play a role in the trends in crash data, Mitchell said. In 2008, when the number of fatal crashes began to decrease, the state hired hundreds more state police officers, he said. There were 16 to 18 officers working at the Roseburg Area Command at that time. There are currently 12.

Mitchell said he and other officers don’t want to give people tickets.

“My goal is voluntary compliance,” he said. If he can tell someone understands when he tells them the risks of dangerous driving, then he’s likely to give them a warning, he said.

He wants to keep people safe, he said. He also wants to keep the roads open. People often miss the economic costs of having to close roads and address crashes.

From 2001 to 2016, fatalities and serious-injury crashes cost Oregonians almost $7 billion in economic loss, according to ODOT.

Crash on Stephens Street slows rush hour traffic

A two-vehicle accident in the middle of the Northeast Stephens Street and Northeast Diamond Lake Boulevard blocked rush hour traffic Friday afternoon.

Right after 4 p.m., a Toyota Prius collided with a Honda Civic driven by Darla Cook, causing damage to the front end of the Prius and to the driver’s side door of the Honda.

Cook sustained an injury to her hand, but was otherwise not hurt.

The driver of the Prius appeared to not be injured.

Roseburg Police and Fire Department personnel responded to the accident, which blocked westbound traffic through the intersection for about a half hour before it was cleared.

Both vehicles had to be towed from the scene.

Partial shutdown begins

WASHINGTON — A partial federal shutdown took hold early Saturday after Democrats refused to meet President Donald Trump’s demands for $5 billion to start erecting his cherished Mexican border wall, a chaotic postscript for Republicans in the waning days of their two-year reign controlling government.

Vice President Mike Pence, Trump son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner and White House budget chief Mick Mulvaney left the Capitol late Friday after hours of bargaining with congressional leaders produced no apparent compromise. “We don’t have a deal. We’re still talking,” Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard Shelby, R-Ala., told reporters.

Late Friday, Mulvaney sent agency heads a memorandum telling them to “execute plans for an orderly shutdown.” He wrote that administration officials were “hopeful that this lapse in appropriations will be of short duration” — an expectation that was widely shared.

With negotiations expected to continue, the House and Senate both scheduled rare Saturday sessions. House members were told they’d get 24 hours’ notice before a vote.

The gridlock blocks money for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice.

The lack of funds will disrupt many government operations and the routines of 800,000 federal employees. Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and will work unpaid just days before Christmas, while 380,000 will be furloughed, meaning they’ll stay home without pay.

Those being furloughed include nearly everyone at NASA and 52,000 workers at the Internal Revenue Service. About 8 in 10 employees of the National Park Service will stay home and many parks were expected to close.

The Senate passed legislation ensuring workers will receive back pay, which the House seemed sure to approve.

Some agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, were already funded for the year in agreements reached earlier, and they will operate as usual.

The U.S. Postal Service, busy delivering packages for the holiday season, will not be affected because it’s an independent agency. Social Security checks will still be mailed, troops will remain on duty and food inspections will continue.

Also still functioning will be the FBI, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard. Transportation Security Administration officers will continue to staff airport checkpoints and air traffic controllers will also remain at work.

Trump has openly savored a shutdown over the wall for months, saying last week he’d be “proud” to have one and saying Friday he was “totally prepared for a very long” closure. While many of Congress’ most conservative Republicans were welcoming such a confrontation, most GOP lawmakers have wanted to avoid one, since polling shows the public broadly opposes the wall and a shutdown over it.

“None of them have succeeded,” veteran Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said of past shutdowns. He said the political fallout has always damaged “Republicans who said, ‘By God, we’ll show them.’ It doesn’t work that way, it just doesn’t.”

Despite saying last week he’d not blame Democrats for the closure, Trump and his GOP allies spent the last two days blaming Democrats anyway. Trump said now was the time for Congress to provide taxpayers’ money for the wall, even though he’s said repeatedly that Mexico will pay for it — something that country has repeatedly rebuffed.

“This is our only chance that we’ll ever have, in our opinion, because of the world and the way it breaks out, to get great border security,” Trump said Friday. Democrats will take control of the House January 3, and they oppose major funding for wall construction.

Looking for a way to claim victory, Trump said he would accept money for a “Steel Slat Barrier” with spikes on the top, which he said would be just as effective as a “wall” and “at the same time beautiful.”

Trump called GOP senators to the White House Friday morning, but Republicans said afterward that the session did not produce a strategy.

Early this week, the Senate approved a bipartisan deal keeping government open into February and providing $1.3 billion for border security projects but not the wall. In a GOP victory Thursday, the House rebelled and approved a package temporarily financing the government but also providing $5.7 billion for the border wall.

Friday afternoon, a Senate procedural vote showed that Republicans lacked the 60 votes they’d need to force that measure through their chamber. That jump-started negotiations between Congress and the White House.

Republicans conceded that one of their biggest hurdles was Trump’s legendary unpredictability and proclivity for abruptly changing his mind.

“The biggest problem is, we just don’t know what the president will sign,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

So restive were senators returning to Washington that McConnell and others sported lapel buttons declaring them members of the “Cranky Senate Coalition.”

The White House said Trump did not go to Florida on Friday as planned for the Christmas holiday.