The numbers of road fatalities in Palm Coast and Flagler County plummeted in 2019 compared to previous years, by some measures reaching or approaching a 20-year low.
The Florida Highway Patrol and the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office put the total number of fatalities at 12. The state Department of Transportation places it at 11. The Flagler County Sheriff’s Office answers and documents every such call for service, and FHP conducts the traffic homicide investigations.
Only once since 1996 has the number of road fatalities been that low: in 2015, when it was 12, though 2018’s figure was relatively lower as well, with 17 fatalities, compared to 33 and 25 two years before. Since 2000, according to FHP’s numbers, 401 people have been killed on Flagler roads, an average of 20 a year, so the 2019 tally is essentially half or close to half that number.
The drop is the more remarkable considering the doubling of the county’s population in the last 20 years and the explosion of smartphones and texting in the last decade and a half while the county’s roadways have remained largely the same, though many have been re-engineered for volume and safety.
“I don’t think our drivers have gotten any better and certainly our population has grown over that time frame,” Sheriff Rick Staly said, attributing the drop to a range of factors and recent initiatives.
“If you recall in 2017 we had 36 fatalities, 2018 we had 19, and now we’re down to 12,” Staly said. “In 2017 I went to the City of Palm Coast and asked for six dedicated deputies for our traffic unit, which they did provide. That started in 2018. So now we have seven day a week coverage with our traffic unit dedicated for Palm Coast, and our five motorcycles. We focus on aggressive driving, we uses statistical analysis to focus on our enforcement on high-crash locations and causes of crashes, and I have a motivated team, so they’re out there working.” (The BMW motorcycles have reached the end of their useful life and are about to be replaced by Harley-Davidson bikes.)
Flagler County Traffic Crashes and Fatalities, 1990-2019
The fatalities included one pedestrian–John Cicalo, a 50-year-old resident of West Flagler, killed in September while walking along Mahogany Boulevard in the Mondex, or Daytona North, where street lights are rare. Two of the fatalities–George Serafino, 76, and Michael Kolenko, 74, were the peripheral result of medical issues the drivers were suffering. Neither crash involved other vehicles or injuries.
By far the most lethal mode of transportation last year in Flagler were motorcycles: six of the fatalities were motorcyclists, and in one of those cases, two motorcyclists died in a head-on collision with each other on State Road A1A the evening of July 1. Three of the fatalities involved an SUV or a pick-up truck. Three involved cars.
There was no discernible geographic pattern to the crashes, with all 11 crashes occurring on distinctly different roads: A1A, U.S. 1, State Road 100, Belle Terre Parkway, Colbert Lane, Matanzas Woods Parkway, I-95 northbound, I-95 southbound.
A frequent location of fatalities did not make it on the books this time: U.S. 1 and Old Dixie Highway, the location with the heaviest death toll in the previous decade. That’s where the transportation department built a roundabout last year, a roundabout bitterly opposed by many residents and even the county commission, though by every measure roundabouts are the most effective and less expensive means of reducing catastrophic and fatal crashes at busy intersections. The transportation department is also building a roundabout at Matanzas Woods Parkway’s intersection with U.S. 1, another frequent crash location, but after pressure from the county commission, the department abandoned plans to build a roundabout at Cody’s Corner at the southwest end of the county, though that corner is has been riddled with severe and fatal crashes over the years.
Another key absence from crash statistics: crashes involving students on bicycles, which had ticked up a few years ago, triggering a concerted response from Palm Coast government, the school board and the sheriff’s office, with awareness campaigns and some redesigns of a few (very few) bus stops.
Aside from the Sheriff’s Office’s expanded traffic-unit, the agency also deploys largely unmarked patrol cars to aid in the traffic efforts and step up enforcement. The monthly Community Traffic Safety Team, led for the past four years by School Board member Andy Dance, also appears to have made an impact, though it’s difficult to directly draw cause-and-effect conclusions involving any one factor.
“Whether you can track or pinpoint any of it is impossible ,” Dance said. “You just keep working as hard as you can on those different components to make sure we’re identifying issues as they come up.”
“The basis for the committee, Dance said, “is to analyze the traffic data and try to work toward solutions so the same instances don’t occur again. The DOT likes to use the four Es–engineering, enforcement, education, and emergency services. So those four work together to help reduce the fatality rate. And I think you cans see components of all of those working together. Whether you like them or not the roundabouts are an engineering solution to eliminating fatalities. The sheriff has done a great job with his patrols, traffic patrols and the Mustangs and their visibility. On the education side, I know the schools have worked to get the message out on pedestrian and cyclist safety, we’ve done the walking audits to try and identify and eliminate conflicts between motor vehicles and pedestrians and cyclist, and on the emergency side it’s really about proper response to serious accidents, to try and render as quickly as possible proper aid.”
The sheriff’s office has its own awareness campaigns, whether it’s dressing up deputies in costume, with a radar gun, on certain occasions, flashing signs about texting or speeding, or disseminating social media videos and messages through the public affairs office, such as a safe-driving campaign encouraging drinkers to hire an Uber or a Lyft to get home. The sheriff said he recently met with FHP’s commander to get a stepped up trooper presence on the interstate, with six troopers assigned to Flagler.
“We’re going to continue our initiatives that we have right now,” Staly said, noting one near-future initiative: “All the sheriffs were meeting earlier this week, we’re going to do a statewide safe streets initiative involving all the sheriffs and all the police departments.”