AS I SEE IT
By Neal A. Shipman
There are a lot of things that we can be proud of in McKenzie County. Our communities and our schools are experiencing unprecedented growth. We are witnessing commercial and residential construction, the likes we have not witnessed in our county’s history. And thanks to the development of the oil and gas reserves in the area, McKenzie County leads the state not only in the number of drilling rigs and operating wells, but also in oil and gas production.
These are all things that we can, and should, be proud of.
But one statistic that we cannot be proud of is that for the second year in a row, McKenzie County led North Dakota in the number of traffic fatalities.
In 2012, the county accounted for 25 percent of the state’s fatalities. During that year, 18 people died in the 17 fatal crashes that occurred either on state or county roads in McKenzie County. And in 2013, the numbers got even worse where the county saw 24 deaths as the result of 22 fatal crashes.
The numbers don’t lie. Everyone knows that the traffic on U.S. Highway 85, N.D. Highway 23, as well as the county roadways within McKenzie County, is partially to blame for the number of fatalities that are occurring. When you consider that an estimated 12,000 vehicles a day are moving along the two-lane stretch of U.S. Highway 85 between Watford City and Williston, it is a wonder that there aren’t more fatalities.
But the traffic volume on our local roads isn’t the only culprit in these fatality numbers. As is reported in a front page story in this week’s McKenzie County Farmer, most of the blame for the number of fatalities that we are seeing in the county is driver-related.
According to Sergeant Tom Iverson of the North Dakota Highway Patrol, nine of McKenzie County’s fatal crashes in 2013 were alcohol-related. And in addition, in 10 of the county’s 22 fatal crashes this past year, people were not wearing a seat belt.
Those are very somber numbers.
Think about it. Of the 22 fatal crashes in McKenzie County during 2013, 19 could very well have been preventable if only the driver hadn’t gotten behind the wheel while under the influence of alcohol or the occupants of the vehicle had chosen to buckle up.
You can’t blame those fatalities on the lack of four-lane roads or the sheer volume of traffic in the county. The blame for those fatalities rests solely on the shoulders of the drivers and the people who chose not to wear seat belts.
Yes, it is going to be good to have U.S. Highway 85 four-laned in the very near future. Likewise, it is going to be nice to have the bypasses around Watford City and Alexander. These improvements will definitely help ease the traffic congestion that we are experiencing.
But all of the highway improvements in the world will not reduce traffic fatalities in McKenzie County until drivers who are using these roads decide to drive sober, buckle up and follow traffic laws.
Sound simple. It is.