NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Despite an overall traffic decrease during the pandemic, more people are dying on Tennessee roads.
Deaths from crashes are up 23% this year compared with 2020, with 63 more people killed in the first three and a half months of 2021, as of March 15.
"The bottom line is to save lives," said Tennessee Highway Safety Office (THSO) Director Buddy Lewis.
The THSO is helping launch a new initiative Friday called Slow Down Tennessee in order to directly combat the sharp rise in deaths, which it believes is strongly connected to speeding.
"We're just noticing a lot of speeding going on," he said, "and high speed. I'm not talking about five to seven miles over the speed limit, I'm talking in a 70 they’re going 85 and 90 to 95 miles an hour."
Actual crashes with serious and deadly injuries are also up 12%.
The THSO says speeding not only increases the possibility a crash will happen, but also how serious it is.
"Do you think people don’t understand the consequences of speeding on the roads," Traffic Anchor Rebecca Schleicher asked Director Lewis in a Zoom interview.
"I think people understand it when it happens to someone else, but I think it's human nature to think it wont happen to us," he said.
It's a message you'll notice on signs across the state through the end of the month as they urge you to slow down.
But if the signs, message boards and social media campaign blitz doesn't convince you, extra patrols might.
Troopers, police and deputies will be on special lookout for speeders with extra enforcement in every city and town across the state. They say every road is a possible target and each agency will use its discretion to monitor trouble spots in its own community.
"This isn't a gotcha situation, we want people to know we'll be out there," said Tennessee Highway Patrol Capt. Travis Plotzer.
The effort is meant to save lives, slowing the number of deaths on the roads and preventing that dreaded knock at the door.
"The hardest part is getting out of my car walking to that door knowing I've got to deliver some bad news," Plotzer said, "my mind is racing 'what exactly am I gonna say, how do you phrase that to somebody?' I've been doing this since 2005 and I tell you it never gets easier."
THSO Director Lewis says saving a few seconds isn't worth your life or anyone else's.
"All we're asking of the motoring public is to be considerate of other roadway users," Lewis said.
The #SlowDownTN campaign will run April 16-30.
If you are interested in having a trooper speak to your school, group or business about safety, contact Capt. Plotzer at Travis.Plotzer@tn.gov