When the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization discussed new performance standards for safety in February, they asked staff to bring back a more detailed look at traffic-related fatalities.
That’s exactly what happened at the board’s meeting in March.
Tina Russo, active transportation planner for the Pasco MPO, detailed causes for crashes in Pasco County, based on information gleaned from long-form crash reports completed by the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) and local police departments.
The idea was to take a closer look at who is being killed on Pasco County roads, who is using the roads and what can be done to prevent crashes, Russo said.
The analysis also took a close look at crash types.
It’s important to know how the crashes are happening, to help prevent them from occurring, she explained.
Russo refuses to call the collisions “accidents,” instead referring to them as crashes.
Increased vigilance and changes in behavior are needed to reduce the death toll on Pasco roads, she said.
The data reveals that Pasco’s crash rate is higher per capita than the state average and higher per capita than in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties, too, Russo said.
Pasco County’s population in 2020 was 561,000 in 2020 — nearly 100,000 more than it was a decade before, Russo noted. “Of course, we’re higher than that (now),” she added.
The crash reports show that most of the collisions are occurring on major roads — such U.S. 19, U.S. 301, U.S. 98 and Interstate 75.
“Little (Road) is becoming very similar to (U.S.) 19, unfortunately,” Russo said.
Pasco County Commissioner Gary Bradford cited an inherent problem with information contained on the long-form crash reports.
“There are five law enforcement agencies in the county. Do they all get the same training in filling out these forms? Yes.
“Would I absolutely 100% trust these forms? Absolutely not,” Bradford said. “You have to look at them, sometimes, with a jaundiced eye.”
Russo told the MPO board that while FHP and the local police departments fill out the long-form crash reports, the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office does not.
She also detailed the types of behaviors that are killing motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists in the county.
The largest number of crashes in 2022 occurred at intersections, according to the report. There were 4,486 wrecks at intersections, resulting in 308 serious injuries and 33 deaths.
Lane departures are a significant cause of crashes, Russo said. The report shows 3,246 crashes involving lane departures, resulting in 236 serious injuries and 45 fatalities.
“Half of that number is someone driving off the road, with no seatbelt on, hitting a fixed object,” Russo said.
Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman said he’d like to see data involving the safety of roundabouts.
Russo offered this observation: “We do know there are less fatalities and serious injuries at roundabouts because of lower speeds. There may be more crashes, but they’re at much lower speeds.
“As a cyclist, I love roundabouts,” she added.
The age of drivers also plays a big role in Pasco’s crashes.
It may not be all that surprising that teenagers were involved in 1,504 crashes in Pasco in 2022, resulting in 104 serious injuries and 12 deaths, according to the Pasco MPO’s report.
But the numbers for aging drivers were even higher, with 2,624 crashes, resulting in 207 serious injuries and 23 deaths, the report shows.
Reducing traffic-related fatalities also involves changing behaviors, she said.
“It’s a scary trend to think that people aren’t wearing their seatbelts again,” Russo said.
Just two changes would result in far fewer deaths from traffic crashes, she added.
“If people wore seatbelts and helmets, our fatality rate would probably drop 50%,” Russo said.
Resolving traffic safety issues takes a collaborative commitment — involving traffic operations, project management, planning and public education, among other things, Russo said.
Improving safety also requires a shared effort by everyone who travels through the county — in vehicles, on bicycles, on motorcycles and by foot, she said.
“Our No. 1 goal is saving lives,” Russo said.
The Pasco County MPO is the lead transportation planning agency for the county and is made up of elected leaders from Pasco County, Zephyrhills, Dade City, New Port Richey and Port Richey.
Published April 05, 2023