Drive safely today. It's Friday, the most dangerous day of the week on Pasco's streets and highways.
Pay particular attention on the way home from work or school or on your way out of town to start the three-day Labor Day weekend. The most likely time for a crash is between 4 and 5 p.m.
There is one oddity to this warning. We are in September and, last year, it was the month with the fewest number of accidents, but the highest number of fatalities.
These statistical findings are included in the just-released 2010 crash data compiled by Pasco County. Not all of the computations are complete, however, because of a change in reporting methods. Totals for November and December are scheduled to be amended. Still, the compilation reflects the changing driving patterns on Pasco roads and the perpetual problem of poor habits by those behind the wheel.
There is some good news. The number of accidents and fatalities is declining. There were more than 7,000 motor vehicle accidents on Pasco's roads last year with more than 1,500 injuries and 63 fatalities, according to the preliminary report. If the amended numbers do not change dramatically, it will continue the trend of improved road safety for the third consecutive year. There were more than 9,500 crashes and 96 fatalities in 2007. Ninety-one people died on Pasco's roads in 2008, and there were 73 fatal accidents a year later.
Certainly, we'd like to think improved roads and public education contributed. Better lighting and the ongoing installation of median channels and continuous right-hand turn lanes on U.S. 19 are some of the most high-profile safety improvements. Other intersections were retooled via financing from the Penny for Pasco sales tax.
Separate from the county data, the state reported that 29 people not wearing seat belts were killed in Pasco accidents last year, indicating that still more awareness, enforced by the annual "Click it or Ticket'' campaign, wouldn't be out of place.
Unfortunately, the economy likely is the biggest contributor to safer roads. Rising gasoline prices and high unemployment means people are driving less frequently. The peak-hour traffic on some Pasco roads is down 15 percent from four years ago. Fewer vehicles on the road means fewer people making poor or uninformed choices behind the wheel and a reduced opportunity for cars to be sideswiped or rear-ended.
Here's a few other findings:
• The greatest number of accidents occurs near the Interstate 75 interchanges with State Roads 56, 54 and 52.
• Six of the top 20 accidents sites are on U.S. 19 intersections.
• Three north-south roads account for more than a third of the fatal accidents. The deadliest road in 2010 was U.S. 19 with 10 fatalities while U.S. 41 and I-75 each had six each.
• The most dangerous times on the roads are between 10-11 p.m. (six fatal crashes) and the morning commute with five crashes occurring between 8-9 a.m.
As is customary, careless driving and failure to yield the right of way account for roughly half the accidents in Pasco County. It's easy to blame cell phones and texting, but if motorists don't understand a "Stop'' sign isn't the same as turning right on red, you're always going to have befuddled or harried drivers pulling into intersections when they should be allowing other vehicles to go first.
You can see this daily at the two-way stop sign on Hale Road where it intersects with the newly lengthened Collier Park in Land O' Lakes. Last week, I watched two consecutive cars pull through the eastbound stop sign, even though the westbound motorist waiting to turn south onto Collier had the right of way.
If only this was an isolated spot. Thursday morning, two vehicles rushed through an Asbel Road stop sign onto U.S. 41, forcing commuters in both directions to hit the brakes. And, let's face it, the problem isn't exclusive to Pasco commuters, either. Just a while later, in Hernando County, the driver of a pickup truck grew impatient after stopping at the red light controlling the left-turn lane on northbound U.S. 41 at Wiscon Road. He or she never did wait for the light to turn green, instead bolting across three lanes of the southbound highway to get to Wiscon.
By my calculations, that's three motorists, in a span of 25 minutes, who failed to yield the right of way or obey a traffic control device. They decided their time was more valuable than the welfare of other people on the highway.
I'm not looking forward to the drive home.