BATON ROUGE, La. (La. Highway Safety Commission) - Louisiana's highway safety chief delivered a simple, direct message Friday on the eve of the 43rd Bayou Classic - a relatively sharp rise in African American highway fatalities in Louisiana is due to a lack of seat belt usage and other behavioral factors.
In 2015, highway fatalities across the nation rose 7.2 percent, the highest increase in nearly 50 years, said Dr. Katara Williams, executive director of the Louisiana Highway Safety Commission. Louisiana's fatality rate rose 1.6 percent in 2015, but African American fatalities in the state shot up by 5 percent, most likely because seat belt usage among African American drivers and passengers is too low, she said.
"There is only one way to reverse this trend - we must buckle up, refrain from texting and driving, and most importantly, no drinking and driving," Williams said. "Making a conscientious effort do these very simple things is the only true way to close the gap."
Seat belt usage rates are increasing every year in Louisiana, but usage among African Americans is still about 7 percent lower than all Louisiana drivers and passengers, Williams said. Statewide, 86% of all people use their seat belts, but that rate drops to 79% for African Americans.
While Louisiana is making "significant strides in reducing highway deaths," she said, "we all know that even one death on our highways is one too many."
Williams, a Southern University graduate and the first African American to hold the safety post, said the Bayou Classic is an appropriate venue at which to discuss highway safety issues because "whether you are a Tiger or a Jag, and you have blue and gold blood running through your veins as I do, you are family, and family takes care of one another."
Williams addressed the media Friday as part of the 43rd Bayou Classic activities along with several other speakers, including DOTD Secretary Dr. Shawn Wilson; NOPD Chief Michael Harrison; Orleans Parish Sheriff Marlin N. Gusman; Louisiana State Police Trooper Bryan Lee, and New Orleans Fire Chief Timothy McConnell. Also speaking on Friday were Southern University Campus Police Chief Joycelyn Johnson; Grambling State University Police Chief Howard Caviness; Lt. Bobby J. Washington of the Grambling Police Department; LaShonda Johnson, Regional Director of Sigma Gamma Rho; Southern University SGA President Zana Harris: Grambling SGA President Michael Meadows; Valerie Cox of MADD; Luther Perry of Ministers Against Crime and Telley Madina of NOCCI.