Oxford ranks eighth in state car crashes for its size

The Oxford Eagle By Lucy Schultze
September 19, 2002

A study on statewide crash trends received by the Oxford Police Department earlier this month is getting attention from City Hall after it placed Oxford among the most dangerous Mississippi cities to drive a car.

"Tonight I wish to ask before a policeman has the opportunity to do so personally the public to slow down, heed speed limits, drive courteously and defensively," said Mayor Richard Howorth during Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Aldermen. "Through voluntary effort alone, we can reduce this rate."

The report, prepared by the Office of Highway Safety within the Mississippi Department of Public Safety, lists Oxford as eighth among cities of more than 10,000 people for the number of serious wrecks relative to our population.

The most recent data, from 2001, shows a crash rate of 4.17 per 1,000 residents. Oxford climbed to eighth place from 12th in 2000 and 13th in 1997.

"Insurance companies understand that higher accident rates occur where drivers tend to be a younger age, so I would excuse Oxford's blemish, except that Starkville, a city demographically like us, is 19th in this statistic," Howorth said.

The home of Mississippi State University, with a population nearly double that of Oxford's, reported 3.2 crashes per 1,000 residents in 2001. Leading the list was Laurel, which reported a crash rate of 6.03, followed by Hattiesburg, Moss Point, Pearl, Natchez, Jackson and Biloxi.

Also in the study, Lafayette County appears twice in a six-category chart indicating traffic safety problems in the top 20 counties where concerns exist. It ranks 11th in total crashes per vehicle miles traveled and 13th in number of highway crashes.

Oxford Police Chief Steve Bramlett said that while his department responds most often to fender-benders, most of the serious wrecks in town are caused by a failure to yield right-of-way at a stop sign or traffic light. "They know green means go and red means stop, but they think yellow means go real fast," he said.

In Oxford, where the crime rate is half the national average, "traffic is the biggest public safety issue we have here," Bramlett said. "We work 1,000 wrecks a year in this town fender-benders and the whole nine yards."

The police department has identified the intersection of Highway 6 and Jackson Avenue as the site of the most serious wrecks in town. "Those crashes are rather traumatic because you're dealing with highway speeds," Bramlett explained.

On city streets, a common problem is drivers doing a variety of things while at the wheel. "Driving a car itself is multi-tasking," Bramlett said. "But they're talking on their cell phones, listening to the radio, doing anything except paying attention to the task at hand which is to safely navigate a public street."

Bramlett's best advice is to slow down, pay attention and remember it's not the yellow line that keeps other cars in their lanes but the drivers themselves.

"People need to drive defensively," he said. "The only thing you can control is yourself and your car. You don't know if the other driver is paying attention or if he is sober."

Bramlett said alcohol is not a factor in most serious wrecks in Oxford: "I'd say 10 percent or less."

Statewide, alcohol-related fatalities have dropped from 53 percent in the 1980s to 40 percent in the mid-1990s, falling to a record low of 35.96 percent in 2001. That year, alcohol was a factor in only 282 of the 784 traffic fatalities.

The crash trends report calls 2001 a "banner year" for highway safety, with Mississippi claiming the nation's largest single-year fatality reduction at 17.4 percent (949 to 784). Data from those fatalities show that 521 of them were drivers, 72.5 percent of which were not wearing safety belts. About 68 percent front-seat passengers who died were unbelted, as were 60 percent of back-seat passengers.

In Oxford, however, the police department reports a high user rate for safety belts.

"We put forth a big effort to remind people to 'click it' when they get in the car," Bramlett said. "That's the biggest protection the simplest protection.

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