LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky is on track for its lowest number of traffic fatalities in decades.
The Courier-Journal (http://cjky.it/1bNicyX) reports fewer than 600 fatal crashes had been reported by mid-December. The last time the number was that low was in the 1940s.
The newspaper reports a stricter seat belt law that went into effect in 2006 is credited with playing a major role in the decrease. That year, there were more than 900 fatal wrecks in the state.
Bill Bell, executive director of the Kentucky Office of Highway Safety, says the rate of decline in Kentucky is still behind the national rate of decline, but "we're catching up."
Bell said younger people have grown up wearing seat belts and are a driving force behind the change. The number of fatalities involving younger drivers, between the ages of 16 to 24, has decreased in Kentucky faster than any other demographic, he said.
"We just need to keep concentrating on the younger drivers to keep that momentum going," he said.
Ben Neal, who has worked for a decade as a Louisville EMS paramedic says he has noticed the decline.
"I can honestly say that after 2006 I have responded to fewer fatal accidents," Neal said, adding that there are times now when he reaches an accident scene and thinks, "There's no way someone didn't die," but then finds out that he is wrong.
"I would attribute it most definitely to seat belts," he said.
Experts say the lag in decreasing fatality rates might be due to the state's sluggishness in adopting a stricter seat-belt law. The law, which allows police to stop a motorist who isn't wearing a seatbelt, is similar to those in 33 other states and the District of Columbia.
Former Kentucky Gov. Ernie Fletcher lobbied for the law after fatalities increased to 985 in 2005.
Fletcher said in an interview with the newspaper this month that opponents argued the law would restrict personal freedom. He argued that the reduction in deaths outweighs "any perceived reduction in liberty."
"I'm just thankful the legislators were willing to pass it," he said.
Information from: The Courier-Journal, http://www.courier-journal.com