In 2011 there were 67 fatal crashes on Oakland County roads — up from 59 fatal crashes the year before.
But despite the slight increase, the county's roads are still among the least fatal in the world, said the leader of the Traffic Improvement Association of Michigan.
Jim Santilli, executive director of the Auburn Hills-based TIA, along with representatives of local law enforcement agencies and Oakland County government, released the traffic fatality statistics during a press conference Wednesday.
The leaders also talked about ways to continue to prevent those deaths from happening.
"We still have more work to do," Santilli said. "We're trying to move towards zero deaths."
The fatality rate for Oakland County was 0.54 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles of travel, compared to the State of Michigan at a rate of 0.94 deaths.
Other southeast Michigan traffic fatality rates are:
- Macomb County: 0.76
- Wayne County: 0.83
- Washtenaw County: 0.95
- Livingston County: 0.81
Traffic fatalities, Santilli said, disproportionately affect younger drivers.
"In the United States, traffic crashes are the leading causes of death for teens and young adults ages 15 to 20," Santilli said. "That's unacceptable and that's why in traffic safety, we don't call them accidents.
"We call them traffic crashes because they are preventable."
Among the most concerning of all traffic crash fatalities are those that happen in clear weather conditions — likely from texting while driving, said Santilli.
"Studies show that when a driver is looking down to send a text or e-mail message they're concentrating on something for 4.6 of every 6 seconds," he said.
"To put that into perspective, that's the equivalent of driving the length of a football field at 55 miles per hour while blindfolded."
Romeo High School student and Rochester Hills resident Ally Zimmerman was 16 last year when she died after being struck by a distracted driver, according to police. On Wednesday, Ally's mom, Laurel Zimmerman of Oakland Township, talked about Ally and her loss.
"Not a second goes by that you don't want time to just go back. When you lose a child, it goes against everything that you believed in," she said. "It happens every day, it happens to so many."
Zimmerman is working with TIA and Oakland County on a project called "Remembering Ally: Distracted Driving Awareness Campaign."
The campaign is talking to young drivers across the state, educating them on the dangers of distracted driving. They have released a video here.
More officers needed
Oakland County Executive L. Brooks Patterson and Undersheriff Mike McCabe of the Oakland County Sheriff's Office also addressed the media. They called for more attentive driving, less use of cell phones and more law enforcement officers on the road.
Santilli agreed that a decrease in law enforcement can also be blamed for rising traffic fatalities.
"Obviously we're in challenging economic times and our political leaders have to make difficult decisions," Santilli said.
"One of the things we're asking today is when public officials are considering cuts, please for the safety of the public look at law enforcement as a last choice."
In an interview after the press conference, Santilli added that he is reaching out to local governments across the metro-Detroit area to encourage them not to cut law enforcement.
McCabe said that between 2001 and today, the state of Michigan has 3,500 fewer police officers.
"High visibility, high enforcement — that does prevent traffic accidents," he said. "The cutbacks that have occurred in law enforcement in Michigan have been pretty devastating."