Despite the fact that an 7-year-old girl was near , Evanston may actually be a safer place for drivers and pedestrians than it was four years ago.
According to the police department’s annual report, the number of car crashes has declined by 16.5 percent in the last four years.
Between 2008 and 2011, the number of car crashes went down from 2,934 to 2,458, according to the report released in May. Last year, the number decreased 1.5 percent, from 2,490 to 2,458.
Police Cmdr. Thomas Moore, who headed the traffic unit for the past four years, said that he believes increased police enforcement and improved engineering at certain intersections are responsible for the decline.
In particular, Moore said that police have focused their enforcement efforts on pedestrian safety and distracted drivers.
“I think [distracted driving] probably accounts for a good majority of the accidents,” he said. “They’re too busy messing around with their radios and their cell phones. Until we get a handle on that, we’re going to continue to have accidents.”
Since a citywide ban on talking on a cell phone while driving (with the exception of hands-free devices) went into effect in March 2010, police have ticketed nearly 4,000 drivers, Moore said.
“As more information is coming out about how serious a distraction a cell phone is, whether hands-free or not hands-free, I think people are coming to the realization that it is extremely dangerous,” he said.
Beyond cracking down on distracted drivers, police have also beefed up enforcement of pedestrian safety, in part because of a revised state law.
“The law a few years ago used to state that you ‘may yield to a pedestrian in the crosswalk,’” Moore explained. “Now it says ‘You must stop for a pedestrian in the crosswalk.’”
Among the 2,458 car crashes that took place in Evanston during 2011, 276 involved at least one reported injury, according to the police department’s annual report. That figure represents a decrease of 8.5 percent from 2010 and 17.6 percent from 2009.
In crashes that resulted in at least one injury, failing to yield was by far the most common cause, a factor in 49 percent of the 276 crashes. The second most common factor was speed, at 24 percent, followed by disobeying a traffic device, at 10 percent.
While the number of car accidents involving an injury went down, the number of fatalities has wavered between zero and three over the past four years, according to Moore. In 2011, there were three fatal accidents in Evanston. One was caused by a medical issue, another was related to alcohol and the third involved a bicycle striking a car, Moore said.
“Ultimately, if we have one accident, that’s too many—but they are going to happen,” he said. “As long as we can keep the motoring public safe out there and pedestrians safe, that’s our goal.”