Placer roads getting safer

Records kept since 2003 show vehicle accident numbers cruising downhill
By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Some folks feel safer, others don’t. But the stats are a revelation. Traffic accidents in Placer County have been dropping yearly since 2003. Rick Ward, commander of the Auburn California Highway Patrol office, released the numbers this week. They show accidents dropping every year from a peak of 1,941 in 2003 to 1,302 last year. The decrease of 295 accidents between 2007 and 2008 represents the greatest year-to-year fall during the five years. Ward said that trend is expected to continue this year, with about 100 fewer accidents by the end of 2009. Ward said more aggressive enforcement, tougher rules on teen drivers and new laws about texting and cell phone use while driving have all helped. Some Auburn-area drivers say they have noticed the roads seem to be safer these days. Meadow Vista’s Teri Walther said she appreciates the Highway Patrol presence on areas of Interstate 80 around Dry Creek Road, which provides a deterrent for speeders. “They’re really on top of it,” Walther said. “I feel a lot safer in this area but there’s a big difference when I go past Penryn.” Monica Bottarini of Auburn said she was feeling safer now that she knows about the continuing drop in accidents. She added that she likes the rules banning cellphone use and text messaging by drivers. “Personally, I would like to see cellphone jamming in cars,” Bottarini said, referring to technology that would automatically turn off cell phones when vehicles are started. Not everyone is driving with a growing sense of security. Donna Smith of Lincoln Hills said she still doesn’t feel safe, despite the statistical drop in accidents. A freeway driver, she said she’s constantly being tailgated and when people pass, she sees that they still are talking on cell phones. Grayson Maloney said he’s still wary. A Washington State resident who visits California and Placer County on occasion, he said local roads and drivers still make him a little nervous. He rides a motorcycle. “But luckily, I’ve never been hit,” Maloney said. Jean Hackman of Lincoln Hills said she notices a lot of people in Sun City rolling through stop signs but she feels safer on the road than she did in 2003. “That was the year I moved here from San Francisco,” Hackman said. “I’m in a retirement area now and feel very safe.” Highway Patrol statistics cover an Auburn-area patrol zone that includes Interstate 80 in the foothills and valley. They show an overall 18.5 percent drop in accidents last year. Broken down even further, the decrease was 4.8 percent in North Auburn (from 82 to 78); minus 14.5 percent in the Foresthill area (from 76 to 65); minus 17.9 percent on Highway 49 between the El Dorado and Nevada county lines (161 to 133); and minus 6.2 percent on Interstate 80 between Riverside Avenue and Colfax city limits (502 to 414). Overall, there were still 10 fatal accidents last year – down from an average of 17 over the previous three years. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at