Drivers have become accustomed to Illinois Department of Transportation signs along state roads. The electronic, emergency signs have been up for more than a decade informing motorists about safety campaigns and emergencies.
IDOT added something new to the message boards last summer after transportation officials noticed an unsettling increase in fatal auto accidents. Illinois had 65 more car accident fatalities by May 2012 than it did during the same period the previous year.
Transportation representatives, state police and public health officials decided to highlight the problem where drivers would take notice. Starting last July, electronic signs were used to display a running total of traffic deaths as a safe driving reminder.
The signs show weekday updates but not real-time information. IDOT screens, processes and confirms the fatality information before it is posted. Officials admit it takes time to compile the statewide data because reports are received digitally and on paper. Four months into 2013, transportation officials still had not tabulated all of last year's fatalities.
Transportation representatives believe the signs have had a noticeable impact. The state traffic death rate began to decrease after the sober highway messages were displayed. Observers can only guess whether there is a direct link between the messages and improved Illinois driving habits.
Seasonal weather also has considerable impact on fatality rates. An early spring in 2012 caused favorable driving conditions sooner than usual throughout Illinois. Experience taught transportation officials that traffic volume increases heighten the chance of auto accidents.
IDOT plans to display the traffic fatality rates indefinitely, especially through the traditional good weather, travel seasons.
Response to the posted death rate on IDOT signs has been mostly positive. Officials said complaints about the safety campaign included relatives that were reminded of the loss of a loved one, sometimes at the hands of a negligent driver. IDOT hopes the signs also evoke strong feelings about the consequences of unsafe driving among other motorists.
Source: wbez.org, "The deal with those traffic death highway signs," Jennifer Brandel, April 9, 2013