2011 traffic fatalities down in Collier, up in Lee compared with 2010

— Southwest Florida roads remained about as safe in 2011 as 2010.

Florida Highway Patrol data shows the number of traffic-related deaths in Collier and Lee counties held steady compared to previous years, with a slight uptick in fatalities reported in Lee County and a small decline in Collier County.

Between the two counties, 108 people were killed on roads in the area for various reasons — accidents, drunken driving, texting while driving and negligence. Thirty-six died on Collier roads, down from 42 in 2010, while 72 were killed in Lee County, up from 65 in 2010, FHP reported.

"We've been pretty consistent the last couple of years, and that's down from a few years back when we were at 55 or 60," said Collier County sheriff's Sgt. Robert C. Brown of the Safety and Traffic Enforcement Bureau. "Even when we were up high around the 60s, that might sound like a lot, and it's a tragedy that those people died in our county, but that's substantially far fewer fatalities than a lot of the neighboring counties."

Traffic fatalities generally have been on the decline in the past half-decade — locally, statewide and nationally.

Last year's 2,444 traffic-related deaths in the state were a three-decade low, with figures for 2011 not immediately available. And the U.S. Department of Transportation said the fatality rate per miles driven was the lowest since 1949, the first year data was compiled.

In the past five years, fatalities have fallen by about one-third in both Collier and Lee counties.

Last year's 2,444 traffic-related deaths in the state were a three-decade low, with figures for 2011 not immediately available. And the U.S. Department of Transportation said the fatality rate per miles driven was the lowest since 1949, the first year data was compiled.

Brown said Collier sheriff's officials have used a three-prong approach to reducing traffic crashes — helping engineer roads better, educating the public, and enforcing traffic laws. Mapping systems also have allowed for efficient targeting of more dangerous areas.

"We're going to continue being observant and preventative," Brown said. "If you can address issues in their infancy, then you're going to be much more successful than somebody who doesn't do that."

Still, the figures are subject to chance in some respects.

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"You're going to have a variance every year. That's just normal," Brown said. "But you can effect that variance dramatically with a very focused approach to traffic safety."

Efforts to reach Lee sheriff's officials for comment about the traffic fatality figures were unsuccessful.

Traffic safety could once again become a legislative issue when the 2012 session starts next week. A bill proposed in December 2011 would ban texting while driving, making it a secondary offense. While similar bills have failed in recent years, both Collier County Sheriff Kevin Rambosk and Lee County Sheriff Mike Scott have supported bans. Scott has expressed some reservations about a possible precedent.

"I'm all for it," Scott said last month. "It's difficult to enforce, very difficult to enforce, and I think sometimes just throwing a law at the problem may or may not gain the result that we're looking for."

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