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Single-car fatalities on the rise

In the blink of an eye, a life can be ended while traveling on busy highways where drivers are often going more than 60 miles per hour.

Whether it’s due to texting while driving, looking away for a brief moment to change the radio or driving when tired, distracted and fatigued driving can be just as dangerous as driving while under the influence.

Fatal single-vehicle wrecks saw a jump on Lafayette County highways in the last five years, according to the Mississippi Highway Patrol.

In 2015, MHP troopers investigated five single-car fatalities in the county. Four individuals were not wearing their seat belt and were ejected from the vehicle. One death resulted from the vehicle rolling over after hitting an embankment.

In 2014 there was one fatal wreck. In 2013, a single-car wreck resulted in the death of an unborn child.

“In 2012, we worked two single-car fatalities in Lafayette County in which speed was a factor in one,” said MHP Trooper Joey Miller. “In the other, they ran off the road and hit a tree. Both had their seat belts on.”

In 2011, there were four single-car fatalities. A tree that was blown down into the road after a storm caused one wreck. Speeding contributed to one of the wrecks and in another, a driver ran off the road and struck a tree.

MHP investigates wrecks on highways and state roads only. On occasion, when a wreck occurs on a stretch of highway that is located inside the city limits, the Oxford Police Department will handle the investigation. If the wreck occurs in Lafayette County and there are no available troopers, the Lafayette County Sheriff’s Department will handle the investigation. Each agency reports its wreck data to the Mississippi Department of Public Safety in Jackson.

OPD and LCSD stats

In the city of Oxford, fatal single-car wrecks have remained at the average of two a year in the last five years. Speed limits on city roads are much less than on highways. Since 2011, there were nine fatalities resulting from single-car wrecks. There were two fatalities in 2011; three in 2012; three in 2013; none in 2014 and so far, one fatality in 2015.

All but two of the fatal wrecks occurred on either Highway 6 or 7 inside the city limits.

Fatal single-car wrecks investigated by the sheriff’s department also have increased over the last couple of years. Deputies responded to three fatalities on county roads in 2015. Two of the wrecks resulted when the driver went off the side of the road for unknown reasons and either rolled over or hit a tree. One wreck occurred when a garbage truck, sitting on the side of the road, rolled over onto a solid waste worker.

Cpl. Johnny Poulos, director of public affairs with MHP, said it is often difficult to determine the cause of a single-car wreck.

Causes could be people falling asleep behind the wheel, texting, a medical condition, a bug, or they could be realted to drugs or alcohol.

“Sometimes it’s pure speculation,” Poulos said. “We may have no way to determine the cause outside of an autopsy that will reveal if it was medically related or driving under the influence, but outside of that, it’s often hard to come up with concrete evidence.”

Distracted driving

While it’s often hard to prove why someone drives off the side of the road for no obvious reason, distracted driving is becoming a serious problem for Mississippi.

A report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found distracted driving is a contributing factor in far more accidents involving teen drivers than previously believed. Researchers studied 1,700 videos of car crashes involving young drivers and found distractions were a factor in 58 percent of the crashes.

Distraction.gov defines distracted driving as any activity capable of diverting a person’s attention from the main task of driving.

In July, texting and driving became illegal in Mississippi after lawmakers passed legislation earlier in the year. Drivers are prohibited in using their phones to text, sending emails or posting on social media sites. Fines for texting and driving start at $25 and will increase to $100 in July 2016.

“We try to educate the public when it comes to fatigued and distracted driving that they can be just as dangerous as driving impaired,” Poulos said. “We do know in some cases, this contributes to single vehicle crashes that often result in fatalities.”