Vision Zero Opens Eyes to County Crash, Fatality Dangers

November 8, 2019, 7:30 AM HST (Updated November 8, 2019, 11:54 AM)
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Wayne W. Geil was pedaling through Wednesday evening’s waning hours when an intoxicated motorist attempting to navigate Kaumana Drive crashed into the 40-year-old Hilo man, robbing Geil of his life.

Geil’s fatality highlights the importance of protecting vulnerable users on Hawai‘i County roadways, new data shows.

According to a newly-released study conducted by SSFM International, 110 fatalities and crashes were reported between 2013-17. Approximately 27 crash maps were created to identify the most problematic areas across Hawai‘i Island. The Vision Zero Task Force, created in February 2019, hopes to use the data to create action plans to combat this fatal and dangerous issue.

The data was collected from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System and National Center for Statistics and Analysis. Data also was collected from Hawaii County Police Department, Hawaii Department of Transportation and Census Bureau’s API for American Community Survey.

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The Vision Zero Task Force is comprised of community members and state and county officials. Its goal is to announce specific action plans by February 2020. The Hawai‘i County Council also passed a resolution to support the strategies and policies of the task force.

Task force member Tina Clothier is the strategic projects director for Peoples Advocacy of Trails Hawai‘i. She said the Geil’s death is heartbreaking.

“We felt as though we were making headway, and for something like this to happen is tragic,” she said. “It really validates this effort around Vision Zero to understand what’s happening on our roads and how to eliminate traffic fatalities.”

The Big Island community is collaborative, Clothier said, which has allowed the task force to gain momentum.

“Since we’re such a small population, these fatalities really hit home,” she said.

For the past few years, Hawai‘i County as had the highest per capita death rate in the state, said Hawai‘i County planning director Michael Yee.

The task force’s study breaks down Big Island fatalities between cyclists, pedestrians and vehicle occupants between 2013-17. Six (5%) of those fatalities were cyclists, 13 (12%) were pedestrians and 91 (83%) were vehicle occupants.

The study indicates that the deaths are disproportionately high when considering the breakdown of how many cyclists and pedestrians are actually on the road compared to other users.

Of those traversing island roads during the study period, 0.4% were cyclists and 2.2% were pedestrians — percentage points far lower than the disproportionately high death rates for those populations. Approximately 87% of road users were vehicle occupants.

The study also found that traffic collisions where speed was a factor made up almost half of the fatalities at 44%. The majority of fatal crashes were determined to be alcohol- or drug-related at 55%.

Yee said the study and crash maps reflected what emergency personnel and officials knew intuitively but that having the data proves the point, thus easing the way for policy makers when making decisions on how to allocate funds.

“Everyone has consistently shown up at the table to see Vision Zero be successful,” Yee added.

The task force’s action plans are still being discussed. However, Clothier said, some ideas include outreach education and road restructuring to protect vulnerable users.

Hawai‘i County Councilwoman Susan Lee Loy was an early supporter of the Vision Zero Task Force. A number of council members also donated their contingency funds toward the development of the study.

“Going forward, by identifying these high risk areas, we can begin to synergize our funds so that we can improve these areas in a smart way,” Lee Loy said.

There have been 17 fatalities so far this year, compared to this time last year when there were 24. Clothier said the statistics are trending down. While the task force doesn’t know why for sure, there are a few variables in place, like the increased enforcement on Daniel K. Inouye Highway.

“It’s not just up to enforcement, it’s not just up to the road department, it’s all of us working together because this will take a real effort on behalf of all the different organizations in the community to help change the behavior on our roads,” Clothier said.

Clothier hopes to get more finite data that shows what’s happening at major intersections. The hope is by reducing fatalities, areas where there are serious crashes will reduce as well.

Vision Zero has existed for seven years. In that time, some 40 states and/or communities have adopted the program. Maui County was the first county in the state to implement the task force, and the Hawai‘i State Legislature adopted the plan this past legislative session.

Check out the full study by clicking on the link below.

Study

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a reporter for Big Island Now. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat. Tiffany is an award-winning journalist, receiving recognition from the Utah-Idaho-Spokane Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists. Tiffany grew up on the Big Island and is passionate about telling the community’s stories.
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