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Chicagloand Weather May Prove Tricky for Travelers

Fatalities on state highways increase this year and agencies remind drivers to be safe. Here are a few tips to stay safe this holiday season.

Traffic fatalities on Illinois roads have been increasing this year _ the figure so far is 937_ prompting the Illinois Department of Transportation and the Illinois Tollway to urge drivers be safe as millions of motorists hit the road this holiday weekend.

The Illinois Tollway alone expects 15.7 million vehicles on the tollway system during the Christmas and New Year holidays, starting today through Jan. 2.

Both the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) and the Illinois Tollway are reminding drivers to be safe over the holidays, an especially important message given the increase of fatalities this year.

Over the last three years, traffic fatalities have been under 1,000, said Josh Kauffman, Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) spokesman. The figure has been the lowest since 1921, he said.

But the number of fatalities has been increasing steadily this year, Kauffman said. Last year, there were 813 deaths, he said.

There are a number of reasons why fatalities are increasing including a higher number of travelers, bad weather, distracted driving and impaired driving, he said. Speeding, texting while driving and seat belt use can also be attributed to the increase of fatalities on the roads, he said. Sometimes it’s a mix of factors involved, he added.

IDOT has a few campaigns, like Click it or Ticket, aimed at trying to improve safety. The department also uses dynamic message boards on the roads to remind drivers about the danger of texting and driving and speeding. The message boards also update the number of fatalities, he said

“We want to continue to increase awareness of what the road fatalities number is at to make people more aware and help us,” Kauffman said.

IDOT’s latest campaign is Driving Zero Fatalities to Reality. Posting the number of fatalities on dynamic message boards is one of the efforts in the campaign, he said. The messages can translate to positive behavior and defensive driving, Kauffman said. There is also increased state and local police traffic enforcement being done this holiday season, he said.

Driving Zero Fatalities to Reality was successful during the Thanksgiving holiday which saw a 63 percent decrease in deaths, according to IDOT. There were three motor vehicle fatalities and two crashes during the four-day holiday weekend, compared to eight fatalities and seven crashes during the same time period in 2011, the agency reported.

The agency’s fatalities statistics are complied by Illinois State police and have occurred on IDOT’s roads.

But the Tollway is also warning drivers to be alert on its roadways.

“Drivers should remain alert with increased holiday traffic and remember that texting or emailing while driving is illegal and deadly,” Illinois Tollway Executive Director Kristi Lafleur said.

In Illinois, data indicates that cell phone distractions, including texting, were the primary or secondary cause of 1,130 vehicle crashes in 2011, Lafleur said in a release.

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