Thirty-five people have been killed on Big Island public roads through Tuesday — more than double the 16 fatalities recorded during the first 297 days of 2011.
The victims, residents and visitors ranging from 6 months to 92 years old, perished in an array of tragic, freak and drunken or drugged driving crashes across the island. West Hawaii, an area spanning from Pahala to Honokaa, saw 23 — nearly two-thirds — of the deaths.
If the island continues on its current path, with a fatality on average every 8.5 days, the traffic death count could reach 43 by year’s end. In 2011, 22 people died on public roads; 27 in 2010; 29 in 2009; and 25 in 2008.
Hawaii Police Department Area I Assistant Chief Henry Tavares said speed and alcohol are common contributing factors in the wrecks. According to the department, 22 of the accidents involved drugs, alcohol or both. A West Hawaii Today analysis of initial police statements found speeding a suspected contributing factor in at least 16 of the crashes.
“We believe an increase in our presence will encourage motorists to drive more carefully,” Tavares said but was unable to provide an estimate on just how much more enforcement motorists will see.
In response to the uptick in fatalities this year, the department, through both its Traffic Enforcement and District Patrol units, is increasing enforcement of drunken driving, drugged driving, reckless driving, distracted driving, speeding and other laws, he said. Distracted driving includes the use of electronic devices while operating a vehicle.
Traffic Services Sgt. Robert Pauole, who said in federal fiscal year 2011-12 the department conducted 105 grant-funded DUI checkpoints, estimated the number of DUI checkpoints would increase by about 30 percent. Roadblocks will be frequent this holiday season.
In addition, district commanders have also been directed to increase enforcement, including setting up roadblocks, during county-paid hours, Tavares said. Any additional enforcement comes from time management, not pulling officers from their duties.
“We’re increasing enforcement in all aspects including drunken driving, seat belt use and speeding,” said Pauole, who said he has never seen officers on county hours conducting DUI checkpoints in the Kona District. “If we can curb these things we can reduce the number of fatalities on our roads.”
West Hawaii Today was unable to reach Kona Patrol Capt. Richard Sherlock for more details on increased enforcement in North and South Kona.
Maj. Randy Apele, who oversees the department’s Traffic Enforcement Unit, said the department continues to analyze trends and has increased enforcement in areas where crashes have occurred as well as areas deemed at high-risk for crashes.
The department is also working to reduce motorcycle fatalities and the incidence of rear-end collisions, which he said are occurring when people are unable to stop because they are distracted by electronic devices.
However, no matter how hard police work to make roads safer, it all comes down to individuals and the community as a whole.
“This is something we all as members of the community need to get together and try our best to improve,” Tavares said. “It’s something that the police department can’t do by itself — we need to do it together.”
By the month
Below is a month-by-month count of lives lost on public Big Island roads through Tuesday. Not included are deaths on private roads and those attributed to medical conditions.
January 2012 - 0
February 2012 - 6
March 2012 - 2
April 2012 - 4
May 2012 - 3
June 2012 - 0
July 2012 - 8
August 2012 - 3
September 2012 - 5
October 2012 - 4