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Vehicle accidents are way up in McKenzie County

Posted 7/08/09 (Wed)

By Tina Foreman
Farmer Staff Writer

Nobody wants to think about being in an accident. But maybe if more people thought about accidents before they got behind the wheel, a few of them could be avoided.
McKenzie County has seen more than its share of accidents for 2009 and the year is only half over. The number of accidents so far for 2009 is almost the same as the total number of accidents for 2008, a pretty scary fact for anyone on the road.
“We are very busy with accidents,” says Ben Weltikol, McKenzie County fire chief. “We haven’t been busy like this since the oil field days back in the early ’90s, and even though the oil field is picking back up, it is nowhere near as busy as it was then.”
From Jan. 1 through July 2, 2009, there have been three vehicle accident fatalities, 70 property accidents and 18 injury accidents in McKenzie County. Take this in comparison with six fatalities, 96 property and 19 injury accidents for the entire year of 2008 and you may just want to stay home instead of hitting the road.
“People are in a hurry and not paying attention,” says Weltikol. “Every time you turn around, there is someone on a cell phone dialing or texting. It’s ridiculous.”
“Anytime you increase the traffic flow, you are going to have more accidents, and in McKenzie County, we’re noticing an increase in traffic every day,” says Ron Rankin, McKenzie County sheriff. “Accidents skyrocketed in October of 2008 and since then, things have been on a steady rise with no end in sight.”
According to North Dakota Highway Patrol Captain Alan Billehus, there is no rhyme or reason to the increase in accidents, but there are preventative measures that people can take before getting into a vehicle.
“The only things we can assure will help ease the number of fatalities and severe injuries are to wear your seat belt and don’t drink and drive,” says Billehus. “It seems pretty simple, but the numbers show us that for some people, its not.”
The North Dakota Highway Patrol is split into four regions with McKenzie County being one of 11 counties in the Northwest Region. According to Billehus, with 23 fatalities, there have been nearly double the fatalities in the Northwest Region compared to the three other regions in the state, each with 12 or 13 fatalities.
“Of the 23 fatalities, 13 weren’t wearing seat belts,” states Billehus. “Seat belts really do save lives! If we could just get people to buckle up I know our fatalities would go down.”
Unfortunately, neither Rankin nor Weltikol expect the number of accidents to slow. But with a little planning and common sense, they think motorists can help to protect themselves.
“People need to drive defensively,” urges Weltikol. “Look at our traffic more like you would in Minot or Bismarck and go into defensive driving mode every time you get behind the wheel. If you need to use the cell phone, pull over or have a passenger dial for you, and always wear your seat belt.”
Rankin urges drivers to yield to emergency vehicles by pulling over to the shoulder as soon as you notice the emergency lights.
“We also want people to stay out of our way at the scene of an accident,” stresses Weltikol. “Bystanders and onlookers are a major hindrance to emergency personnel.”
The best advice both Weltikol and Rankin have is to be patient and watch out for the other drivers around you because many accidents can be prevented.