Nearly twice as many people have died on Wyoming highways this year compared with 2013, and increases in oil field traffic and drunken driving may be to blame.
The Wyoming Highway Patrol must also take some responsibility for this year’s high number of deaths, said Maj. Perry Jones.
“It’s hard when we have a year like we had last year because we know 87 fatalities is extremely low, and we know we’re not going to repeat that,” Jones said. “At the end of this year, we’ll look at the fatal rate we had for 2014 and see if we have any trends or patterns.”
Highway Patrol figures show that 135 people have died so far this year in highway crashes, far surpassing last year’s total. At this point in 2013, the state had recorded 77 highway deaths.
Last year’s fatal crash totals were unusually low. On average, about 120 people die on Wyoming highways each year.
“It was a very good anomaly to have the number that low for one year,” Sgt. David Wagener said.
In 2010, 153 people died in crashes.
Heavy oil field traffic is contributing to this year’s spike, Jones said.
In October, the Highway Patrol added surveillance to state Route 59, which runs for 110 miles between Douglas and Gillette. More troopers were brought in to respond to increase in traffic and crashes on the highway.
The Mobile Education and Enforcement Team was also used to address the increased commercial traffic on the highway.
The weight of oil field traffic on state Route 789 is causing the road to deteriorate, Jones said. The highway, which runs between Wamsutter and Baggs in the Red Desert area, isn’t wide enough for commercial trucks traveling in the area, which causes traffic accidents.
An increase in drunk driving across the state is also contributing the number of highway deaths. In 2013, 23 percent of crashes involved alcohol. That number grew by 4 percentage points this year.
The number of people who died while wearing seat belts is higher this year than last year, but the number is still startlingly low at only 39 percent.
“Seat belt usage by residents is worse than by nonresidents,” Jones said. “Our residents just don’t wear seatbelts.”
Overall, the number of fatal crashes in Wyoming has been trending downward over the past 10 years, Wagener said.
Contact Lillian Schrock at 307-266-0574 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @lillieschrock.