deaths rise 13%
A total of 136 people died in
2003, with 81 being on Oahu
Statewide traffic fatalities increased 13 percent in 2003 from a year earlier, according to statistics from the four county police departments.
A total of 136 people died last year, through Tuesday, up from 120 during 2002. But the number of fatalities in 2003 remains within the range of the previous five years, which had a high of 142 in 2001 and a low of 102 in 1999.
The number of Big Island traffic fatalities jumped 25 percent to 35 deaths in 2003, compared with 28 a year earlier. But that number, too, is not outside the fluctuations of the previous five years.
However, the number of traffic deaths in Maui County dropped to 15 last year from 20 a year before and 28 in 2001.
Oahu's fatalities rose to 81 in 2003 from 68 the previous year, a 19 percent increase.
However, Maj. Bryan Wauke, of the Honolulu Police Traffic Division, pointed out that the number of fatal collisions on Oahu in 2003 dropped by one to 67, meaning more people died in fewer collisions.
"Some think it's gotten out of control, out of hand, but we're on a downward trend," Wauke said. "Of course, we're concerned with any fatality, but if you look at the number of collisions, it's been consistent."
He attributes the long-term drop to several factors: safer cars, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, stricter drunken-driving laws and better medical treatment.
"All those things come into play," he said. "We cannot take credit for it. It's a combination of everything and our enforcement."
Fatalities in past years were much higher, Wauke said. In the 1980s, Oahu fatalities averaged 88 a year, while they hit an average of 100 in the 1970s.
Oahu fatalities peaked in 1979 at 118, while the low was 47 in 1999.
"In 1999 there was a drastic drop, which we have no explanation for," Wauke said.
Statewide, Kauai has the fewest traffic fatalities, ranging from three to eight in the past six years.
"If you compare Kauai to the rest of the state, our numbers are really low," even given the island's population, said Lt. Scott Yagihara, head of the Kauai Police Department's Traffic Safety Unit.
The island's base population is 55,000 but shoots to 75,000 with visitors and part-time residents.
Yagihara also noted last year's traffic victims were young, all under age 30.
Safe-driving reminders are key to keeping fatalities down, he said.
"I think we could use as much exposure as we can to get drivers to be in compliance with our laws, to not speed and to not drive while intoxicated," he said.