Arizona drivers are the 8th worst in the country, according to a study by CarInsuranceComparison.com, and as the frequency of crashes in Phoenix increases, city planners are looking for ways to adapt roadways and maximize safety.
The frequency of traffic collisions within the state increased by about 6 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to an Arizona Department of Transportation report. Of these crashes, the department reported a nearly 16 percent rise in the frequency of fatal accidents.
Major causes of the increase include distracted driving, population growth and the improving economy, city officials said.
In the same time frame, the frequency of crashes in Phoenix alone increased by about 7 percent, according to a report by the city’s Street Transportation Department.
Richard Russ, the department’s principal engineering technician, said as gas becomes more affordable because of improving economic conditions, more drivers use Phoenix roads, leading to more accidents.
The department’s report shows accident rates dipped to their lowest in the past 10 years, between 2008 and 2013. The Great Recession lasted from 2007 to 2009, according to an analysis by the Economic Policy Institute.
“People in the slower economy years have less money or discretionary funds and they don’t drive as much. There are more people out of work and not driving around during the day,” Russ explained. “Even though it doesn’t track exactly with the recession, it does, in general, show you that the crashes go down.”
Russ’s team analyzes collisions, injuries, fatalities and trends to inform its accident prevention tactics.
Although it is sometimes difficult to quantify, recent data trends show distracted driving is one of the most common causes of traffic accidents, he added.
“If you observe it, you can pull somebody over and cite them for it, but when the crash actually happens, it’s hard, unless you have witnesses, to really charge them with distracted driving,” he said. “We tend to believe that that’s a big change recently, because everyone’s on their phone constantly.”
The report shows rear-end accidents accounted for 30 percent of Phoenix traffic collisions in 2015. Russ said many of these were likely caused by distracted drivers, which his team aims to combat through educational outreach at community events.
Monica Hernandez, the department’s public information officer, said the increase in accident frequency may also be catalyzed by population growth within the city. As roads become more congested, there is a greater likelihood of traffic accidents, she explained.
To reduce the number of accidents in Phoenix, the department will implement several methods, such as adding left-turn arrow signals at more intersections and creating well-marked crosswalks to minimize jaywalking, she said.
In August 2015, Phoenix voters approved Transportation 2050, a tax intended to fund such street improvements and transit services.
The department’s goal is to ensure the safe movement of people and traffic, Hernandez said.
“That’s what drives our design efforts, any changes that we make and our programs and services,” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s a new direction for us, but we’re certainly placing more emphasis on ensuring that our roadways are designed to accommodate all users.”