Semi's Responsible for 9% of Fatalities on ND Roads - - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

Semi's Responsible for 9% of Fatalities on ND Roads

Bismarck, ND -

Oil traffic has caused a lot of frustrations for people living in western North Dakota.

The oil industry has been blamed for making roads more dangerous.

But does the data support that perception?

Donnell Preskey reports.

"The last two years seen nearly 2-3 billion more miles traveled in ND. That's incredible," say North Dakota Department of Transportation Safety Director Mark Nelson.

As traffic has increased... So has the number of deaths.

In 2012, 170 people lost their lives in crashes.

"Think back to the days of making a driving error, where you crossed the center line. Do that today and chances are you're going to hit an oncoming vehicle," says Nelson.

According to DOT data from 2012 -- 13,000 trucks travel south of Williston on Highway 85 each day.

The infusion of traffic coincides with the increase in oil activity.

But Nelson says data does not support claims that oil related traffic is to blame for the upward trend in fatalities.

Nelson says, "there's a perception that semi's are involved in a lot of crashes. We know there is a larger number of semi's involved. But when we look at the total numbers. We had 147 fatal crashes in 2012, 13 of those according to crash reports showed the driver of the semi was a contributing factor in the crash. That's 9% of the fatal crashes."

In 2008, semi's were at fault in 6% of crashes.

Data KX News obtained also shows more out of state drivers are behind the wheel of fatal crashes. 33% compared to 12.5% four years ago.

Nelson says there is no one "hot spot" where fatal crashes are occurring.

The dots on this map represent the fatal crashes in 2012.

As you can see, the crashes are more concentrated in areas were the traffic has exploded in the last couple years.

Nelson says, "Look at causation factors are - is it design of road or did someone make an error in their driving. You can make the road as safe as you want but it falls back on driver making smart choices."

He says half of the fatal crashes are alcohol or drug related. 65% of those killed were not wearing their seat belts and speeding is another top factor.

"What seeing with these crashes is that it really does come down to the driver. A lot of what we see is impatience with drivers. Passing when shouldn't be passing, making decisions that are resulting in severe crashes," says Nelson.

It's getting people to adjust their behaviors that's been difficult for the DOT and Highway Patrol.

Engineering improvements to roads and extra enforcement can do only so much.

"170 deaths is not tolerable."

Nelson lists many road improvements the DOT is doing to reduce traffic fatalities.

By the end of next year all state highways will have rumble strips in the center and edge of roads.

They are also looking at putting reflectors along some of the most dangerous curves.

And construction is planned to expand highway 85 between Williston and Watford City into a four lane.

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