TAMPA — Faced with a spike in serious traffic crashes statewide after nearly two decades of decline, the Florida Highway Patrol is about to embark on an unprecedented campaign to make the state's roads safer.
The effort has a familiar name: Arrive Alive, a crash-reduction effort that began in 1970 and was absorbed by other programs in the 1990s. But the latest incarnation is a data-driven approach that aims to identify the most dangerous roadways in the state and saturate them with troopers, sheriff's deputies and police officers.
Several of these hot spots are familiar to motorists in the Tampa Bay area.
"This is a different approach to reducing crashes than you've ever seen before," Maj. Joseph Franza, commander of the Patrol's Troop C, said at a news conference Tuesday at the Highway Patrol headquarters in Tampa. "Gone are the days when a trooper or a deputy or a police officer goes out to one area where it's easy to write tickets. Our focus has got to be where the crashes occur, and that's what we're going to do."
Near the end of 2014, Florida recorded a sharp increase in traffic crashes, especially crashes that resulted in serious injury or death. In 2015, the number of serious-injury crashes increased 3 percent and fatal crashes jumped 17.7 percent from the previous year.
Before this spike, Florida, like much of the country, had seen consistent decreases in highway fatality rates for close to 20 years, with a low of 1.24 fatalities per million vehicle miles traveled in 2014, the Highway Patrol said.
Final figures were still being calculated, but a state database shows the number of fatal crashes jumped from 2,700 in 2015 to 2,794 last year, an increase of 3.5 percent.
Data analysis for the Tampa Bay area was not available Tuesday.
There are likely several reasons for the rise, Franza said. There are more cars on the road because the economy has improved, Florida's population is growing, gas is cheaper and the number of visitors is increasing. And many of the drivers behind the wheel refuse to leave their cellphones alone, continuing to find other ways to distract themselves from the road.
Analysts have already identified target areas with the highest rates of crashes resulting in serious injury or death. The analysis included data points such as day of the week and time of day.
Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk and Pasco counties are among the 20 counties with the highest number of serious crashes, the analysis of Florida's 67 counties shows.
Local trouble spots include stretches of Interstate 275 near downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg; portions of Interstate 75 in Hillsborough, Pasco and Hernando counties; State Road 60 in the Brandon area; and segments of U.S. 19 in Pinellas and Pasco counties.
"In the past, what we've always done to target problem areas is send troopers to do enforcement details, which had a great short-term effect," Franza said. "However, people's memories are short and that goes away. What we want to have is the visibility constantly in the area, at all times of the day and especially at peak traffic times."
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Officials with the Highway Patrol will coordinate with local sheriff's offices and police departments to cover trouble spots and will track their efforts with an online database.
The campaign is a joint effort among the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Department of Transportation, along with federal Motor Carrier Safety and Highway administrations.
Along with an increased law enforcement presence, local command staffers will team up with engineers, first responders and others to do a formal road safety assessment of problem areas to find out if there are engineering solutions to make them safer. They could be as simple as adding signs or putting fresh paint on a crosswalk, officials said.
The revived campaign was welcome news to safety advocates like Gena Torres, an executive planner for Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planing Organization and project manager for Vision Zero, a plan in the works to reduce the number of fatal or injurious crashes in the county.
The Vision Zero plan includes a map that identifies problem areas in Hillsborough County. Not surprisingly, parts of the map align with the Arrive Alive trouble spots.
"One of the factoids we always talk about is that about 40 percent of the pedestrian fatalities happen on 4 percent of our roadways," Torres said. "So, if you can focus efforts to make an impact on a handful of roads, you should be able to make those numbers go down."
Contact Tony Marrero at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.