Last year was a safer year on Big Island roads than 2012, which was the deadliest year on our streets and highways since 2004.
There were 25 official traffic fatalities on Hawaii Island in 2013 compared to 38 the year before, a decrease of 34.2 percent.
“It was a better year, especially compared to last year,” Sgt. Robert Pauole, who heads Hawaii Police Department’s Traffic Services Section, said Monday. “For some reason, 2012 was a bad year for the county, state and nationally.”
There were three vehicular deaths that don’t count toward the official yearly total. One was because the driver, 73-year-old Donald Ingoglia of Sacramento, Calif., suffered a fatal heart attack which caused him to cross the centerline and collide with a pickup truck, killing his son and grandson, who were passengers in his car, and the couple in the truck. That collision occurred on Highway 11 in Pahala. The other two uncounted deaths occurred on private property.
Thirteen of the official fatalities occurred in West Hawaii, while 12 took place in Hilo, Puna and Ka‘u. There were no fatalities on the Hamakua Coast on Hawaii Belt Road (Highway 19) a stretch of road that had seen numerous fatalities in years past.
“We used to see a lot of fatalities on Highway 19 on the Hamakua Coast, but I think that has to do with the new (Daniel K. Inouye Highway),” Pauole said. Motorists driving between Hilo and Kona now are more likely to use that highway than Highway 19 through Hamakua and South Kohala.
“It is a safer highway,” he said. “But we really haven’t sat down to figure out what might have made a significant change.”
January was a particularly deadly month, with seven official traffic fatalities — eight in all — because of the Jan. 23 crash in Pahala in which five perished.
There were no traffic deaths in October or December.
In 2012, there were 10 motorcyclists killed on Big Island roads — nine officially. One motorcyclist and one mo-ped rider died in traffic collisions in 2013.
DUI arrests were also down in 2013, at 1,348 compared to 1,477 in 2012, a decrease of 8.7 percent.
“Our enforcement of DUI hasn’t changed. We made fewer arrests. But the amount of hours that we were out there enforcing hasn’t changed,” Pauole said.
Kona had the most DUI arrests with 596, followed by South Hilo with 431, Puna with 173, South Kohala with 87, Hamakua and Ka‘u with 22 each, North Hilo with 9 and North Kohala with 8.
There were 308 drivers arrested for DUI who were involved in traffic accidents in 2013 compared to 352 in 2012, a decrease of 12.5 percent.
In 2013, there were 123 drivers younger than 21 arrested for DUI compared to 104 in 2012, an increase of 18.3 percent. Pauole pointed out, however, that there was only one official traffic fatality of an individual younger than 21 in 2013. That was 3-year-old Joel Peter, who fell out of his dad’s pickup truck in Kalaoa, Kona, and was run over, becoming the year’s first traffic fatality.
The boy’s father, Pedro Peter, pleaded guilty to third-degree negligent homicide and was sentenced to three months in jail.
Another 3-year-old, Treston Crowley of Hilo, fell out of a pickup truck he was playing in unattended and was fatally run over on March 15 in Mountain View, but his death was not part of the official count since it occurred on private property.
Thirteen of the official 2013 fatalities have been linked to impaired driving, police said. Five are related to drugs, two to alcohol, and six to a combination of both.
“We’re concerned with drivers impaired on drugs, including medication,” Pauole said. “That’s been a bigger concern in the county and state, as well as nationally. We’re doing better in the DUI category as well as alcohol is concerned, but then there’s drugged driving, driving under the influence of drugs.”
There were 1,326 major accidents — in which damages are estimated at $3,000 or more — in 2013. That’s 9.5 percent fewer than the 1,466 tallied in 2012.
As of Wednesday, there had already been two traffic fatalities in 2014, both in East Hawaii.
Police believe that 53-year-old Anh Kim Tran of Keaau was speeding when her car crossed the centerline Saturday on Highway 130 in Puna and collided with another vehicle, killing her and injuring two others. They also believe that 40-year-old Tracy Pack of Hilo was speeding and under the influence of alcohol when he lost control of his car early Tuesday morning on Kinoole Street in Hilo and struck a chain link fence and a building, killing him.
“If you wear your seat belt, if you don’t speed and if you don’t drink and drive, we could reduce the fatality rate probably by more than half,” Pauole said. “If you, your neighbors and friends can follow these three simple rules, the roads will be a lot safer.”
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.