DADE CITY — In a 12-hour span last week, a Port Richey teenager, a 63-year-old pedestrian and a 24-year-old driver from Winter Haven died in crashes on Pasco County roads, including U.S. 19, Little Road and U.S. 98.
By coincidence, Pasco’s transportation planning board, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, met two days later in Dade City to set a federally required highway safety goal for 2020. The standard for this year? Essentially, let’s hope it doesn’t get worse.
The planning board — Pasco County commissioners and elected city officials — set a status quo goal of 87 traffic fatalities in 2020, the same as the five-year average ending in 2018 "in the hopes of not having any more increases,'' said transportation planner Aurybel Rivera.
Statistics compiled by the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles show it’s been even more grim over the three years ending in 2018. Then, Pasco averaged 99 fatalities annually, including 107 in 2017. That is tied for the most ever in a single year and only the third time the number of Pasco road fatalities reached triple digits. The most recent spike comes after the number of fatalities dropped to just 55 in 2013.
Rivera said there was no definitive answer to the fluctuation, except that the now-prohibited practice of texting-while-driving likely contributed to the crash rate in prior years.
The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle data revealed alcohol and/or drugs were a factor in 37 fatal accidents in Pasco in 2018, a drop from 45 in the prior year. Statewide, other contributing factors included drivers being careless, speeding, not staying in the correct lane, not yielding the right of way, and running a red light or stop sign.
Traffic fatalities are one of five measurements that define the federal transportation performance standard. Others include serious injuries, bicycle and pedestrian crashes, and mortality and injury rates per 100 million miles of road travel.
Though the county showed improvements in three of the five categories, including a reduction in serious injuries, the fatality average jumped 11.5 percent.
Overall, Pasco’s roads remain more dangerous than the statewide average. The state serious injury rate is less than 10 per 100 million travel miles. Pasco County’s rate is more than 24. Put another way, the chance of a motorist being involved in a serious accident is nearly 150 percent higher in Pasco County than elsewhere in the state.
Pasco County’s own traffic crash data for 2018 showed the intersection of Interstate 75 and State Road 56 to be the most dangerous location in the county. Thirty people were injured in 171 accidents there in 2018, according to an April 2019 report from the county traffic operations bureau.
For sheer volume of crashes, however, U.S. 19 continued to be the most cited in the county. Thirteen intersections were the scene of at least three dozen crashes each. The most accidents, 66, were reported at U.S. 19 and Ridge Road. The most injuries, 22, were reported at Sunray Boulevard and U.S. 19. For the year, there were more than 1,380 accidents on U.S. 19 that left 11 dead and 354 injured.
Improvements aimed at making roads safer included the ongoing repaving of U.S. 41, including the installation of sidewalks. And the state, county and Walmart are working on a deadly stretch of U.S. 19 in Hudson. The $2.7 million makeover at Beacon Woods and Dipaola Drives, where eight people have died since 2014, are expected to be completed next year.