ROADS REPORT

Article December 28, 2000
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Drunk driving deaths down
The percentage of traffic fatalities caused by drunken driving is on the decline, according to the U.S. DOT, dropping to a record low in 1997. The DOT reported 16,189 alcohol-related traffic deaths in 1997, 38.6% of the total fatalities. Although still representing about one-third of automobile deaths, the figure was a decrease of about 1,000 deaths from 1996, when drunken driving was responsible for 40.9% of the 42,065 traffic deaths. In 1982, 57.3% of the 43,945 fatalities were alcohol-related.

The figures are being attributed to measures such as lower BAC limits and zero tolerance laws for young drivers. For the first time since record-keeping began in 1975, alcohol-related deaths were below 40% of all traffic fatalities. President Clinton has encouraged states to lower their drunken-driving threshold to a 0.08 BAC and authorized $500 million in grants as an incentive for states to adopt the standard. Currently, 15 states have done so.

Drunken driving deaths among teens aged 15 to 20 dropped 5% from 2,324 in 1996 to 2,209 in 1997, according to data by the department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Murder defendant takes fatal leap
A murder defendant jumped 65 ft to his death from a bridge over the Hudson River after kicking out the window of a moving police van, hands and feet shackled, on the way back from court. Gary Evans, 43, admitted in June that he had killed five people and had been charged in four of the slayings. Evans led investigators to the bodies of three one-time associates this summer while he was jailed on unrelated charges. According to police, those killings occurred between 1985 and 1997. He also confessed to the slayings of two jewelry shop owners, one in 1989 and one in 1991.

After smashing the window, Evans jumped from the van and hobbled to the side of the road over the Troy-Menands Bridge, according to authorities. Evans started to lunge at one of the deputies, then leaped off the bridge, falling into about a foot of water just off shore.

Big beer blunder
A semi with a load of Milwaukee’s Best beer headed for a Michigan distributor spilled its load of more than 2,000 cases on state highway 59. The truck left from Dayton, Ohio, and as it neared its destination, the tractor-trailer broke apart.

Investigators found stress cracks in the frame of the wrecked semitrailer. Not all of the cases that fell burst open, however, many did, spewing beer along a 200-yd stretch of roadway.

Air bag switch controversy
An informal survey of auto repair facilities by AAA reveals that nearly two-thirds of the shops currently won’t install air bag on-off switches because of concerns about potential liability, according to National Motorists Association News. In the survey of 700 new car dealerships and other repair facilities in 29 states, only 16% said they plan to install the switches for motorists who have authorization from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). While 62% were unwilling to perform the service, the remaining 22% are waiting for additional information from vehicle manufacturers and legal advisors.

Repair facilities willing to perform the switch installation estimate that the service will cost approximately $240 and take two hours. This cost exceeds the $38-$68 estimated by the NHTSA.

Gridlock driving suburbanites to downtown
A growing trend in Atlanta of an expanding middle-class population fleeing the manicured lawns, shopping centers and traffic congestion of suburbia for urban living could be an answer to some people’s road rage. For three decades, the metro region has sprawled in all directions, creating traffic problems and overdevelopment. More than 415,000 out-of-state residents have moved to Atlanta since 1990, which is more than any other U.S. city. The city of Atlanta itself has only about 400,000 residents; the city and the 10-county area known as its first tier of suburbs have a combined population of about 3.5 million.

Traffic was not such a problem a decade ago, but as businesses and organizations moved downtown and hometown companies expanded, the area began outgrowing its infrastructure. The growth began to really boom in the years leading up to the 1996 Olympics.

The city’s four interstate highways—75,85, 20 and 285 add to the problem. I-85 meets I-285 at an intersection famous for its back-ups known as Spaghetti Junction, named for the noodle-like formation of its ramps.

Atlanta’s traffic congestion costs more than $1 billion a year in delays and wasted fuel, according to a report by the Texas Transportation Institute, which studies the country’s most congested roadways. A study by the Environmental Protection Agency found that Atlantans had the longest average commute of any city in the world—34.7 miles a day. Since the end of the 1996 Olympics, when downtown improvements began, urban living has become a realistic, and time saving option for some Atlantans.

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