LAWRENCEVILLE - Last year was a deadly one on Gwinnett County roads, with statistics that nearly matched 2004's record-breaking number of fatalities.
There were 86 motor vehicle fatalities in 2005, just shy of last year's record of 88, according to the Gwinnett County Medical Examiner's Office. Fourteen of those killed were pedestrians, compared to last year's total of 15.
Sgt. Wayne Thaxton, who supervises the Gwinnett Police Department's Accident Investigation Unit, said those numbers aren't surprising considering the county's population growth and the resulting increase in the number of cars on the road.
Driver error accounts for most of the fatal collisions, including easily avoidable mistakes such as failing to wearing a seat belt, driving while intoxicated and speeding. Traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for people between the ages of 4 and 34, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Association.
"There are three things that cause vehicle wrecks: the driver, the vehicle and the environment," Thaxton said.
"As you increase (the) number of vehicles, you increase the number of drivers and therefore you have more crashes. As a public safety official, I would like to see that number reduced drastically."
Speeding was one of the leading factors in fatal collisions that occurred last year. With Interstates 85 and 985 and Ga. Highway 316 cutting a wide swath through Gwinnett, high-speed crashes are almost inevitable, Thaxton said.
"Probably the more dangerous roads are going to be your major thoroughfares," he said.
"There are collisions where all the safety devices in the world wouldn't help you. Vehicles out here are capable of speeds in excess of 75 mph; some can reach in the 140 mph range. When you have collisions at those speeds you can expect very severe injuries and life-threatening collisions."
Gwinnett police calculate traffic fatalities differently than the medical examiner's office, subtracting any motor vehicle fatalities that are not caused by a motor vehicle in motion on a roadway. Examples of this are deaths on or from tractors or four-wheelers, deaths in mechanics' garages caused by vehicles rolling over people or deaths with construction vehicles in warehouses or other private property.
By Gwinnett police calculations, total traffic fatalities were up this year from 2004. There were 76 crashes resulting in 81 fatalities in 2005. The previous year, Gwinnett police recorded 79 fatalities, Thaxton said.
Of the traffic-related wrecks in 2005, 22 involved an intoxicated driver. Thirty-five of the victims, or 43 percent, were not wearing seat belts, Thaxton said.