The number of fatalities from motor vehicle-related crashes has been rising over the years statewide, and Will County is among the counties with some of the highest numbers of those incidents, according to state data.
Provisional data from the Illinois Department of Transportation shows that between 2014 and 2017, the number of fatalities across the state has increased by 17 percent. Last year, 1,090 fatalities occurred from motor vehicle-related crashes on public roads.
In Will County, the number of road fatalities during the same time has not steadily increased. But it has remained higher than neighboring counties, with the exception of Cook. Fatalities were at their highest in Will County in 2014 at 61. Last year, the number of fatalities was 58.
In light of the dangers that await drivers when they hit the road, Illinois State Trooper DeAnn Falat encourages people to make sure they’re wearing seat belts, reducing distractions and trying not to change lanes too much.
She said distracted driving is one of the biggest problems troopers encounter.
“Unfortunately, there’s not enough of us to get every distracted driver off the road,” Falat said.
She also said people need to wear their seat belts because “so many lives have been saved with a seat belt.” The less people change lanes in traffic and stay within the speed limit, the more likely they will be safe, as well, she said.
One of the areas troopers see the highest number of fatalities is on Interstate 80 between Larkin Avenue and Route 30, Falat said.
“It’s really not built to the standard to handle the type of traffic and truck traffic we have nowadays,” Falat said.
As a result, state police have partnered with the Federal Highway Administration and IDOT to work on reconstructing or reconfiguring that road to be safer.
She said state police give officials from those agencies input on what they observe when they’re enforcing traffic laws.
In January, Aaron Scofield, 31, was driving a 2011 Kia Soul on I-80 when he was killed after a 2005 Toyota 4Runner, which a 43-year-old Joliet man was driving at milepost 140.5, hit his vehicle. A semitrailer also had hit Scofield’s car, and that driver left the scene without speaking with police.
Interstate 55 also has seen its share of fatal crashes.
In 2014, one of the deadliest car crashes that occurred in Will County was on I-55, when truck driver Francisco Espinal-Quiroz, 55, fell asleep at the wheel and killed five people. In 2017, he was sentenced to 10 years in prison after pleading guilty to reckless homicide and falsifying his logbook.
Falat said either I-55 or I-80 can have more car crashes than the other depending on the time of the day.
From January to Aug. 17, Will County has seen 34 road fatalities, according to state data. Falat said it appears that the spring, summer and fall seasons have a higher number of fatalities.
“It seems like people drive a little bit faster during that time when the weather is warmer,” she said.
Not all fatalities are the result of distracted driving or speeding, she said. Troopers have responded to crashes from drivers who are suicidal or who have suffered a stroke or heart attack while driving, she said.
Falat said the state police will participate or host safety events and visit schools to spread awareness on safe driving and the increasing use social media as part of their efforts to save lives.