The Sun's editorial writer is out of the office this week. The following editorial is republished from the May 11 (DeKalb, Ill.) Daily Chronicle.
Don't look now, but Illinois' highway traffic fatalities have taken a big nosedive since the beginning of the year.
As of Friday (May 9), according to the Illinois Department of Transportation, 254 people had lost their lives in fatal crashes on all roadways in the state.
That marks a nearly 25 percent reduction compared with the 336 fatalities from the same date a year ago.
With the year more than one-third over, Illinoisans have reason to celebrate such good news. (Traffic fatalities are also down in Kentucky with 189 deaths so far this year. That compares with 197 at the same time in 2013 and 256 at this point in 2012.)
What could be the cause?
Here are a few possibilities:
n The ban on drivers using hand-held cellphones took effect Jan. 1. With one less distraction behind the wheel, drivers might be having fewer crashes en route to their destinations.
n Drifting snow, slippery ice and bone-chilling cold might have discouraged drivers from making road trips during parts of January, February and March. Fewer people on the road could have led to fewer crashes.
n The increase in the interstate highway speed limit from 65 to 70 mph also could have been a factor, although it sounds counterintuitive. However, supporters of the 70 mph limit argued that highway safety would improve if more vehicles traveled at the same speed.
n With each passing year, more drivers are in cars with advanced safety features than ever before.
Last year, when 992 people lost their lives in Illinois traffic crashes, the death rate was 2.72 a day.
If the current death rate for 2014 of 1.97 a day continues through December, Illinois is on track to experience a more than 270-person reduction in its death toll, to about 720.
How can motorists continue to participate in this beneficial trend?
Keep their hands off cellphones while behind the wheel, and keep their eyes on the road.
Distracted driving, in fact, is one of the "Fatal Four" infractions that state police continue to target for enforcement, along with speeding, driving under the influence and not wearing seat belts.
The trend for much safer highways in 2014 has been established. Let's keep it going. We urge people to continue to drive defensively and watch out for the other guy.