There were slightly more fatalities on Kentucky highways in 2019 compared to the year before, according to the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet.

But in the Owensboro region, the number of fatal accidents declined, according to statistics released Monday.

The preliminary numbers show there were 734 fatalities from vehicle accidents statewide last year, compared to 724 fatalities in 2018.

Erin Eggen, public information officer for the state Office of Highway Safety, said the final numbers will be released in April. When asked if there were any common factors among highway deaths last year, Eggen said in just over half of all fatalities seat belts were not being worn when the crash occurred.

“Still, we’re not buckling up, and that has been constant,” Eggen said. “We hear about it a lot, the ‘right to not wear a seat belt’ and that it won’t affect anyone else.”

But an unbuckled person is affecting more than just themselves, she said. “In a crash, they become a flying object,” likely to injure other people in the vehicle.

“There’s also a higher chance of you being ejected and hitting the pavement, or having your own car rolling over you,” she said.

The number of alcohol-related highway fatalities increased last year to 121 deaths. In 2018, there were 87 highway deaths related to alcohol.

Overall, 16.5% of highway deaths involved alcohol last year.

In the Kentucky State Police’s Henderson post district, which includes Daviess County, troopers worked 30 fatal accidents last year compared to 33 the year before. Trooper Corey King, public affairs officer for KSP in Henderson, said when troopers work a highway fatality “most of the time (the cause) is inattention or distracted driving.”

“In years past, that has been the No. 1 contributor to wrecks,” King said. “Vehicles are equipped with so much technology … It’s a distraction.”

Devices like entertainment systems take driver’s attention off the road, he said.

“Even your older vehicles have pretty substantial technology in them,” King said. “.... I have stopped people, and they don’t realize they are swerving back and forth” because they are distracted by phones or vehicle devices, he said.

I’m imperative we keep our minds as clear as possible” and focus on driving, he said.

Eggen said the Highway Safety Office uses the fatality numbers to determine what regions need education resources on issues such as seat belt usage. The office can also give law enforcement agencies in targeted areas federal funds to put officers on the street strictly for traffic enforcement.

In the state highway department’s Madisonville district, which includes Owensboro, traffic fatalities were down last year compared to 2018. There were 61 vehicle fatalities and six motorcycle fatalities last year compared to 70 vehicle deaths and 7 motorcycle deaths on highways in the district in 2018.

While the statewide numbers did increase last year, they are still lower than the years before 2006, when death rates over 800 or 900 were common.

“2006 is when we passed the primary seat belt law” requiring drivers to wear seat belts. Eggen said. “You can’t plan to be in a crash or not, but you can plan in case it happens” by wearing a seat belt.

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

James Mayse, 270-691-7303, jmayse@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @JamesMayse

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