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Traffic mishaps prove costly

by Paul Darst

STAFF WRITER

Crumpled metal and broken bones are the most obvious results of most traffic accidents.

Although the cost in human terms is more important, such wrecks also come with a big price tag for the state and county.

Accidents on West Virginia roads caused a total economic loss of $2.9 billion in 1999, according to the state Division of Highways.

And area police agencies are looking for ways to reduce those figures.

In recent weeks, Capt. J.M. Fuscaldo, of the Clarksburg Police Department, has been reviewing a publication from the highways division that shows just how costly traffic accidents are to the state and individual counties.

"The state tracks wrecks so we can see what's going on out there," Fuscaldo said. "That way, we can decide what programs we can do to combat the number of accidents."

In West Virginia last year, police reported 49,312 traffic accidents, according to the report. Of those, 416 people were killed in 372 wrecks, the report shows. Additionally, 24,749 people were injured.

In Harrison County, police reported 1,709 accidents to the state. Nine hundred nineteen people were injured in 584 wrecks, while nine people were killed in 12 accidents.

The agencies also reported 1,116 property-damage-only wrecks.

Those accidents had a high economic cost for the county. The report indicates that the accidents caused a total economic loss of $90,790,000 for Harrison County.

The loss for other area counties was: $12.9 million for Barbour; $44.7 million for Braxton; $11.9 million for Doddridge; $3.5 million for Gilmer; $28.9 million for Lewis; $38.7 million for Randolph; $27.4 million for Taylor; and $25.6 million for Upshur.

Municipalities also took a hit. Clarksburg police reported 404 accidents last year, with no fatalities and 180 injuries. Bridgeport had 219 accidents, no fatalities and 91 injuries.

The state report does not show the economic loss for cities and towns.

Most costs associated with the property damage listed in the report was paid by insurance companies, Fuscaldo said. But that does not mean that drivers' wallets were not hit.

"When you get a ticket or have a wreck, it goes through a court hearing and eventually your insurance company finds out about it," Fuscaldo said. "That's what makes premiums go up."

Even medical costs handled by insurance companies eventually catch up with consumers when costs are passed along, he said.

Although area police are making an effort to enforce traffic codes, Fuscaldo knows that handling traffic wrecks always will be part of an officer's job, he said.

"We're always going to have crashes," he said.

But there are steps motorists can take to reduced the costs, both monetary and otherwise, to themselves, he said.

"People have to pay attention," he said.

Commuters often have their minds on work, family, the radio, cellular telephone conversations and other distractions, which lead to wrecks, he said.

That is what often leads to fender benders, head-on collisions and even death.

During his career, Fuscaldo has had to make his share of telephone calls to inform people one of their loved ones had been killed, he said.

"Those are not easy calls to make," Fuscaldo said. "How do you tell someone that their husband, or son or daughter was killed in a crash?"

That is why enforcement of traffic laws is such a high priority for the department, he said.

"One school of thought is that the more citations we issue, the fewer crash reports we have to write," he said. "If we enforce them, then people will obey the traffic laws.

"We don't want to write tickets, but we also don't want to see accidents."

So, the threat of traffic citations must be maintained, he said.

"If we can prevent an accident that's fatal or with serious injury, our day is better, and everybody else's day is better," Fuscaldo said.

Staff writer Paul Darst can be reached at 626-1404.

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