Roane and Morgan counties had a combined 19 traffic fatalities last year.
State and local officials want to see the number of fatalities reduced, so they held a “Safe Driving” press conference at Dyllis Springs Elementary School on Friday.
“Traffic safety is public safety, so if we could just get that message out, maybe our motorists will understand that we’re here to help them,” Tennessee Highway Safety Office Director Buddy Lewis said. “All we’re asking is for them to allow us to help them by driving and obeying the traffic laws in Tennessee.”
Lewis, Tennessee Highway Safety Office Senior Law Enforcement Liaison Steve Dillard, Roane County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Tim Hawn and Assistant District Attorney General Joe Caldwell all spoke during the press conference.
“We do care about your life,” Dillard said. “We care about you getting to where you’re going and wherever you travel across the state of Tennessee. We’re going to be out there doing our best to make your commute safe for you and for everyone else.”
According to the latest data, 259 people have died in traffic fatalities in Tennessee in 2023 so far. Two of those deaths occurred in Morgan County. Roane County has had one so far this year.
“I look at the total fatality numbers each and every day they come into my office, and I try to look at that and not see just a number but see a person, a human being,” Lewis said. “And what would it feel like if one of those numbers was a member of my family and that’s why I want everyone to understand that those numbers one day could be a family member of yours if we don’t pay attention to what we’re doing on the roads.”
Hawn said notifying family that a loved one was killed in an automobile crash is one of the hardest jobs for a member of law enforcement.
“Our focus is to keep our drivers safe on our roadways,” Hawn said. “We do that through education and enforcement action.”
Several members of the Tennessee Highway Patrol were also at the press conference.
“Our goal here is to reduce crashes and especially traffic fatalities throughout Tennessee,” Trooper Clint McKissack said.
McKissack went on to speak about the “big four,” which is seat belts, speeding, distracted driving and impaired driving. People should buckle up, slow down, stay off their cell phones when behind the wheel and don’t get behind the wheel if they are intoxicated.
“With those four things, we feel like that would make a huge difference,” McKissack said.
Caldwell spoke about the role prosecutions have on keeping people safe on the roads.
“I know that my boss, Russell Johnson, is committed to prosecuting these types of cases, including impairment cases,” Caldwell said.
McKissack said one thing they are doing to try and reduce the number of deadly crashes is making troopers visible in trouble spots.
“Just having a trooper in the area makes a lot of difference,” he said. “If you’ve ever been driving down the road or seen a vehicle in front of you that might be speeding and they come over a hill and see a state trooper sitting on the road, you’ll see their brake lights. It has an impact and that is probably the first line of defense against traffic fatalities, is just having that presence.”
McKissack also spoke about the importance of buckling your seat belt. That can be the difference between life or death in a car crash.
“It doesn’t guarantee that you will survive, but it gives you one more chance,” McKissack said. “Kind of like locking your doors when you get in your car. A lot of cars are autolock. You’re 10% more likely to survive a rollover crash just having your doors locked on your vehicle because you know, those cars rollover, doors will come open.”
Lewis said press conferences like the one held at Dyllis Springs can make a difference.
“We want people to know that we’re doing this because we care about their lives,” he said.
Lewis said they held a similar safe driving press conference in Cookeville recently and they have one planned in West Tennessee in the coming weeks.
“We’re taking areas that we’ve seen an increase in traffic fatalities and serious injury crashes and we’re focusing on those communities,” Lewis said. “A lot of them are rural areas and we need to get the message out. That’s what it’s all about.”
The press conference was originally billed as a Morgan and Roane safe driving event. Dillard said they plan to have one in Morgan County at a later date.