An annual analysis of traffic collisions confirms what police officers on road patrol know from experience: July and August are the deadliest months on Indiana highways.

Of the 701 fatal traffic accidents in the state last year, one in five occurred in July or August, according to the 2010 Traffic Safety Report recently released by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute and the Center for Criminal Justice Research at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

The report, which also lists the most dangerous intersections in every county in Indiana, has some worrisome news in it: After a couple years of a downward trend in traffic fatalities, the number of fatal collisions in Indiana went up last year.

Also on the rise: the number of motorcyclists killed or injured on Indiana roads.

The report is used by law enforcement to target their resources in high-accident areas, but it’s also used by state safety officials to remind motorists of the value of defensive driving. Ryan Klitzsch, the criminal justice center’s director of traffic safety, said drivers who know the locations of high-collision intersections communities are likely to alter their driving habits.

“People who have to go through that intersection twice a day, to get back and forth to work, might think twice before they try to beat a yellow light,” Klitzsch said.

The Indiana Traffic Safety report is released annually in the summer, and followed in the fall with the Indiana Crash Report, which shows even more detailed information on collisions, fatalities and the factors that increase the likelihood of an accident, such as drunken-driving and speeding.

Last year’s traffic safety report said there were 631 fatal collisions in 2009, a 12.6-percent decrease from 2008. While the number of fatalities went up in 2010, to 701 fatal collisions that killed 754 people, the current year has so far been a safer one. The Indiana State Police, which tracks traffic accidents on a monthly basis, reports 28 fewer traffic fatalities as of mid-July than there were at this time last year.

“That’s great news,” said Sgt. Rich Myers, a state police spokesman. “But we need to keep up the work our troopers are doing to keep those numbers down.”

Since 2005, state police have used information about traffic collisions, including location and time of the accident, to concentrate their resources to nab speeders, drunken drivers and other motorists engaged in the kind of dangerous driving that leads to accidents, Myers said.

He also noted that there is still plenty of summer left — historically the highest traffic-accident season.

In 2010, August was the deadliest month on the road in Indiana, with 79 people killed. Second highest was July 2010, when 74 people were killed in traffic accidents. The 2010 traffic safety report reveals some predictable differences among counties. The highest number of collisions are in urban counties that contain high-population centers — and high-trafficked highways — including Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Gary.

But it also reveals a geographical divide among Hoosier motorists: There’s lower seat-belt use among southern Indiana drivers and more northern Indiana drivers who are driving-under-the-influence.

One reason for the difference in seat-belt use, Klitzsch said, is that there are more pickup trucks in southern Indiana. Up until 2007, with a change in Indiana’s safety belt law, people in pickup trucks weren’t required to buckle up. “It might be a residual effect from the time before that law,” Klitzsch said.

Among other findings in the 2010 traffic safety report: The highest level of seat-belt use was among drivers 65 and older. The lowest use of seat belts and other safety restraints, such as child safety seats, was among children 14 and under.

Maureen Hayden is Statehouse bureau chief for the Tribune-Star. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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