La. highway deaths down

Highway deaths in Louisiana fell for the fourth consecutive time last year, and the decline in fatalities among drivers 18-24 is especially encouraging, officials said Thursday.

A total of 676 people died in traffic crashes in 2011, a drop of 44 from 2010 and a reduction of about one-third since 2007, according to the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission.

In addition, 72 people ages 18-24 died in crashes, a drop of 19 from the previous year and down from 134 who died in 2007.

“Just about every aspect of the 2011 crash report is positive, but we are especially impressed by the significant drop in the fatal crashes involving young drivers, who constitute a hard-to-reach group,” Lt. Col. John LeBlanc, executive director of the commission, said in a prepared statement.

The report was done by the LSU Highway Safety Research Group, which is headed by LSU Professor Helmut Schneider.

“It is difficult to overstate the importance of the significant decline in crash deaths among young drivers,” Schneider said.

“The decline in crash deaths among youths has been greater than for older drivers, and this is making a big difference in lowering Louisiana’s overall highway death rate,” he said.

The report said alcohol was a factor in 41 percent of the fatal crashes in 2011, down from 45 percent in 2007.

Authorities made 29,922 DWI arrests last year, up from 25,570 in 2007.

Officials also credited increased seat belt usage — 79 percent this year — for the improved traffic picture.

The 2011 results also show that:

More than 85 percent of driver fatalities involved lack of seat belt use, alcohol or aggressive driving.

Alcohol-related fatalities among drivers 18-24 dropped by more than 50 percent between 2007 and 2011.

Among fatalities, 58 percent of those killed were not wearing seat belts.