2020 was a year of great loss, not just because of the devastating pandemic but also due to increased traffic fatalities on our roadways. This increase is not only an issue within our Citrus County community but across the nation. Statistics published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show that in the last quarter of 2020, the national average for traffic fatalities increased by over 13%.
Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen less cars on the roadway and, overall, less accidents. Why then, would there be this increase in fatalities? Those who were able to continue their daily travels during COVID-19 saw less traffic on the roadways, less vehicles turning, less vehicles stopping, allowing them to reach their destination quickly, and without the usual impediments associated with their daily commute. Driver’s attention to detail gradually reduced, which resulted in riskier driving. Everyone’s learned daily driving habits have changed, either because of months of less roadway traffic or from hitting the road after a lengthy hiatus. Unfortunately, some drivers are now thinking about everything except driving, and crash data indicates that drivers are engaging in far riskier behaviors than ever before.
What does this mean for our citizens here in Citrus County? It means we already have the cure, we need to unite and make the behavioral shifts necessary to prevent traffic fatalities. Just like we come together to mask up against the pandemic, we can come together to end these behaviors such as distracted driving, aggressive driving, and driving under the influence.
CCSO's Traffic Unit worked tirelessly throughout calendar year 2020, conducting high visibility targeted traffic enforcement across the county. During these traffic enforcement events, our Traffic Unit deputies conducted nearly 1,000 traffic stops in the areas of the county seeing the highest level of serious traffic accidents. These numbers do not include their daily traffic enforcement efforts or those carried out by all of our patrol deputies, which totaled 27,460 traffic stops in 2020.
To provide perspective, Citrus County has over 2,100 miles of public roadways. We also have over 145,000 registered vehicles in Citrus County, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of tourists, which visit Citrus County throughout the year. This expansive network of roadways coupled with the abundance of vehicles traversing the thoroughfares within our county simply means we cannot see everything or be everywhere all the time. We must use an evidence-based approach to traffic enforcement. We cannot predict when someone will fail to negotiate a corner, or drop his or her phone and drift into oncoming traffic. What we can predict is, while all efforts will be made to enforce traffic laws, our deputies will still be needed elsewhere to answer calls for service, track down wanted subjects, investigate crimes and perform security checks on local homes and businesses. Of the nearly 200,000 calls for service CCSO answers every year, traffic enforcement is always our number one proactive call type.
While we cannot be everywhere all at once, our community can still make the changes necessary to keep each other safe. It all starts with you, the second you decide to utilize the privilege of getting behind the wheel, be alert, eliminate all distractions, and #JustDriveCitrus. The men and women of the Citrus County Sheriff's Office will continue their unwavering dedication to making our roadways safer for both residents and visitors but, to make the biggest impact, we need your help. Make 2021 the year you reduce all distractions while driving and follow the posted speed limit.
Remember, you are not just endangering yourself when you take part in unsafe driving behaviors. You are risking the life of someone's son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father. The first step in increasing safety for all is practicing safe behaviors in every aspect of our lives, from masking up in the grocery store to keeping both hands on the wheel when driving.
So, let's keep each other safe, Citrus.