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Mississippi highways rank among the worst
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi has earned a first-place rank that no state would envy: highway deaths.
The National Safety Council Accident Facts 2001 ranked Mississippi first in three categories for motor vehicle deaths. The state had the greatest number of traffic deaths per million miles driven, per 10,000 vehicles registered and per 100,000 population.
Herb Willcutt, an agricultural engineer with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the report indicates alcohol is a factor in about 39 percent of Mississippi's motor vehicle accidents. The national average is almost 38 percent.
"The greater problem is improper driving, which is to blame for about 60 percent of all accident fatalities and injuries," Willcutt said. "The No. 1 improper driving issue cited is excessive or unsafe speed -- accounting for nearly 25 percent of all accidents. Failure to yield was second, accounting for 20 percent."
Willcutt said the best ways for Mississippi travelers to protect themselves on the state's roads are to allow plenty of time for driving to destinations, to wear seatbelts and to avoid distractions.
"You don't have control over who else is on the road, but you can be alert and watch out for the other guy," Willcutt said. "Avoid using a cell phone or anything that distracts you from driving correctly. Avoid driving under stress. When driving is necessary, consider all medications that can contribute to unsafe driving, such as medications that may cause drowsiness."
Billy Terrell, director of Mississippi's Office of Highway Safety, said the large number of rural roads in the state plays a factor in the high number of motor vehicle deaths.
"Every time there is a fatality on a rural road, it skews the formula," Terrell said. "We are making progress, but we still need to do better. Mississippi used to have one of the lowest seatbelt rates in the nation, but we're hoping to change our statistics with efforts like the click-it-or-ticket program to increase seatbelt usage."
Nationwide, one person dies every 33 minutes from an impaired driver. Terrell said the best line of defense against an impaired driver is the seatbelt and child safety seat.
"In addition to safety restraints, getting drunk drivers off the road is a priority for Mississippi law enforcement," Terrell said. "December is national and statewide Drunk Driving Awareness Month. We want to increase the public's awareness of the danger. Officers will be watching even more closely during the holidays to spot dangerous drivers."