Palo Alto County is one of five counties in the state of Iowa that has been tapped to embark on a program designed to reduce fatal crashes on secondary roads. The "High Five" Rural Traffic Safety Project is a joint collaboration between the Iowa Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau and the Iowa Counties of Palo Alto, Allamakee, Webster, Marion and Freemont.
The idea behind "High Five" is simple: The High Five Rural Road project is a data driven, multi-agency endeavor to help increase seat belt usage and reduce serious crashes and fatalities on Iowa roadways. The goal of the project is to use education, enforcement and engineering through partnerships with local, county and state agencies to create a safer Iowa.
"Basically, the program's goal is to reduce serious injury crashes and increase seat belt usage," Palo Alto County Sheriff Lynn Schultes said. "Since this is a pilot project, the first of its' kind, if we can make it work, it will be used elsewhere in the state and in the nation."
In establishing the program, the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau examined statistical data from each of Iowa's 99 counties, specifically targeting secondary road data. Unfortunately, Palo Alto County stood out for a couple of reasons high crash rates and low seat belt usage rates.
"In the period from 2004 to 2013, we had 19 fatality accidents, 34 major injury accidents and 291 accidents with minor or possible injuries," Schultes said. "There were also 821 accidents involving damage to property only, but that damage amounted to $7,048,000. All told, we had 1,165 total crashes, and these were on secondary roads not the main state or federal highways."
The latest data from the GTSB and the Iowa Department of Transportation show that 72 percent of all fatal crashes in the state occurred on secondary rural roads. That is a huge number, when one considers that 79 percent of the road systems in Iowa are secondary rural roads.
Just for the sake of reference, Schultes noted that Pocahontas County had a total of 538 total crashes in the same timeframe, while Kossuth County double the size of Palo Alto County, had 1,695 total crashes and Emmet County had 930 total crashes from 2003 to 2013.
"Because of the strong working relationship Palo Alto County has established with other law enforcement agencies, and a past history of being a traffic safety advocate, they were chosen to be part of this pilot project," noted Patrick Hoye, director of the Governor's Traffic Safety Bureau.
"Through our participation in this pilot program, the sheriff's office is going to participate in a three-pronged effort over the next 18 months," Schultes explained. "First, our deputies will be out every day, giving extra attention to traffic violations on our secondary roads. Secondly, we will also step up our enforcement of seat belt laws as part of an educational emphasis."
"The fine for a seat belt violation is $132.50," Schultes continued. "There will be no warnings anymore. The seat belt law has been in effect for a number of years and we will enforce it. Along with that, we will also be enforcing the child restraint laws as well."
According to the sheriff, a violation of a child restraint law will cost the driver of the vehicle $200 for the violation citation. "The fine is higher for the driver, because the child can't be responsible for themselves the parent or driver has to be responsible."
The third component of the project will be to work with both state and county engineers to identify roadway hazards, whether due to conditions, signage or other factors. "By working with the engineers, hopefully we can work towards the goal of making changes in the roads in the interest of safety," Schultes added.
While the project is being administered through the Governors' Traffic Safety Bureau, it is being overseen by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for possible implementation on a nation-wide basis.
"If you think about it, it is really kind of neat for our county to be included in the development of this program," Schultes said. "Anything that we can do to make our roads safer and save the lives of our citizens is more than worth the effort."