LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Kentucky's highway death toll in 2012 was running slightly ahead of last year's pace and the state's top transportation official on Monday promised continued efforts in the next year to promote safe driving habits.
Preliminary statistics from late last week showed that 735 people had lost their lives on Kentucky roadways during 2012, according to a count kept on the Kentucky State Police website. That number was up from the 714 fatalities during the same period in 2011.
But the death toll so far in 2012 was down from a three-year stretch ending in 2010, state police said. During the same period in 2008, there were 816 highway fatalities across the Bluegrass state, 782 in 2009 and 754 in 2010.
State Transportation Secretary Mike Hancock said the toll remains a concern, especially amid a recent upswing in deaths.
"But it's not a numbers game for us," he said. "There is no such thing as 'acceptable losses.' Every highway death is a tragedy, and our Strategic Plan for Highway Safety is intentionally titled 'Toward Zero Deaths.' In 2013, we will continue our efforts, including an emphasis on use of seat belts, driving sober and eliminating driver distractions."
Two horrific crashes on opposite ends of the state claimed nine lives in December.
In western Kentucky, four people — including three teenagers — were killed when the van they were in collided with a tractor on a road in Trigg County. Police said a passenger who survived was the only person in the van wearing a seatbelt.
About two weeks later, a head-on crash on Christmas Eve claimed five lives in Knox County in southeastern Kentucky.
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Through Christmas, 317 of this year's highway traffic victims were not wearing seat belts, and 139 fatalities resulted from crashes involving suspected alcohol use, according to state police.
Sixty-four fatal crashes involved commercial motor vehicles, state police said. Another 76 fatal crashes involved motorcycles and 39 victims were not wearing helmets, police said. Fourteen crashes involved ATVs and 12 victims were not wearing helmets. Another 53 crashes involved pedestrians, seven involved bicycles and one fatal crash involved a scooter.
Death toll statistics were preliminary as state police awaited any further updates from local law enforcement agencies.
Meanwhile, state police along with local law enforcement planned to be out in force during the New Year's Eve holiday.
"We plan to use safety checkpoints, roving patrols and targeted enforcement details to remove drunk drivers from Kentucky roadways," said Trooper Michael Webb, a state police spokesman. "Make no mistake, if you are caught driving impaired, you will go to jail."
Last year, traffic crashes claimed six lives across Kentucky during the New Year's Eve holiday period. There were 1,314 crashes reported during that period and 63 involved alcohol, state police said.
This year's holiday enforcement period began Friday evening and continues through New Year's Day.
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