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Speeding linked to 52% of crashes in county

Excessive speed was a contributing factor in 52 percent of fatal crashes in Jackson County in 2008, according to statistics from the Department of Transportation's Traffic Safety Division released Tuesday.

The statistics show excessive speed played a role in 13 of the county's 25 traffic fatalities last year. It was the No. 1 cause of traffic fatalities and injuries in Oregon and a contributing factor in half of the state's fatal crashes, said Sally Ridenour, an ODOT spokeswoman.

Speed was the only factor in 30 percent of traffic fatalities statewide, Ridenour said.

Impaired motorists, poor road conditions and other factors can play a part in fatal traffic accidents, Ridenour acknowledged. But if drivers would slow down, it would save lives, she said.

"Of the 416 fatal accidents throughout the state (last year), speed was a factor in 210 of those accidents," she said.

Speeding-related crashes that result in fatalities were four times more likely to occur on a rural road than on an urban highway or freeway, Steve Vitolo, TSD statewide traffic law-enforcement program manager, said in a press release.

One of the most dangerous combinations is high speed and corners. The largest percentage of speed-related traffic deaths occur when a vehicle leaves the roadway, often on a corner, and crashes into a fixed object, such as a tree or rock, he said.

"People think that most fatal crashes happen on freeways and that they can get away with speeding on less crowded rural roads, but that's just not true," said Vitolo.

"Rural roads and local neighborhood streets provide less room to maneuver and more instances when drivers must react to unexpected circumstances."

Speeders kill more innocent Oregonians than drunken drivers, he said.

In 2008, 40 percent of those killed in speed-related crashes (84 of 210) were innocent victims or passengers, not speeding drivers. The study also estimated the economic cost of speeding-related crashes in Oregon in 2008 was $700 million.

Between 2000 and 2008, Oregon State Police troopers cited more than 35,500 drivers for going between 90 and 99 mph, and more than 4,500 drivers for going 100 mph and faster. In 2008, troopers cited 376 drivers for driving 100 mph or faster, said Vitolo.

Exceeding the speed limit by 30 mph can lead to a 30-day driver's license suspension and a $679 fine. Speeds of 100 mph or more could earn drivers a $1,103 fine plus a 30- to 90-day driver's license suspension.

Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail sspecht@mailtribune.com.