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Deadly driving: Local roads and highways had 15 fatal crashes over the summer

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TWIN FALLS — Distracted drivers. Angry drivers. Impaired drivers.

These are the top three behaviors that cause fatal crashes in Idaho during the “100 Deadliest Days” — the time between Memorial Day and Labor Day when more traffic deaths happen than any other time of year.

Statewide, Idaho had an estimated 102 fatal crashes during that time frame — 15 of those were in in south-central Idaho, resulting in 16 deaths and 15 injuries, according to preliminary numbers.

Many of the victims’ families are still waiting for closure as agencies hold off on pressing charges until toxicology reports come back for some of the drivers involved. Most charges won’t be filed until prosecutors have all the information, said Lt. Robert Rausch, patrol commander for Idaho State Police District 4.

Such is the case with the first of the region’s fatal crashes, which took place June 3 on Interstate 84. ISP's report said a wrong-way driver caused the deaths of two people, while three others were injured, and it appears that alcohol was a factor in the crash.

Police are fielding lots of calls from the public about the crash, but don't yet have all the answers.

“We do not still have all of the information back to make an appropriate charge,” Rausch said.

In a typical year, impaired driving is a factor in about 40 percent of fatal crashes throughout the state. This year, it’s been a factor in about a quarter of fatal crashes.

A 20-mile-long construction zone on I-84 was the scene of 32 of the 144 crashes ISP responded to in May, June and July. But only one of these construction-zone crashes was fatal.

“The most important thing for people to remember when they’re going through a construction zone is that traffic patterns change,” said Jessica Williams, spokeswoman for the Idaho Transportation Department.

Drivers should give themselves plenty of reaction time, she said. Rausch said this year there were a lot of sudden stops, merges or slowing down that resulted in rear-end collisions.

“The first driver would be kind of caught by surprise, and the other drivers would be caught by surprise,” he said.

The speed limit was initially 70 mph throughout the construction zone. It’s generally recommended to slow traffic no more than 10 mph, Rausch said, but this zone was an exception due to crashes. So in July, ITD lowered the speed limit to 65 mph — or less, in some areas.

The length of the work area was not unheard of, but it was also something that frustrated a lot of people, he said. This can lead to aggressive behaviors such as speeding, tailgating or sudden merges.

ITD took all the right steps to get speeds down and finish portions of the construction faster, he said.

Local law enforcement agencies have released the preliminary collision reports for most of the crashes that happened in ISP District 4. These reports are subject to change as police get more information. In cases where charges are pending, Rausch says it’s not uncommon to wait a year before charges are filed.

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