By KANTELE FRANKO
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Ohio had a record low number of traffic deaths in 2013, according to preliminary data released Wednesday by the State Highway Patrol.
At least 923 people died on Ohio roads during the past year, and additional deaths are under review but have not been confirmed as traffic deaths, making the possible total 981, according to patrol figures. It would be the first time Ohio has had fewer than 1,000 traffic deaths since record-keeping began in 1936.
The previous low was 1,016 in 2011, according to the patrol's revised statistics. In 2012, Ohio had 1,122 deaths.
The patrol had strived to get the number of deaths below 1,000, said the patrol's superintendent, Col. Paul Pride. But reaching that benchmark is couched in the reality that so many lives still were lost, he said.
"That's all well and good, unless you're the family of one of those folks that perished on our roadways, and it's not so good of a year for you. And we recognize that," Pride said.
Starting in the late 1960s, Ohio logged at least 2,500 traffic deaths for five consecutive years, with a record high of more than 2,770 in 1969. Since then, many factors have contributed to decreasing that number and improving road safety, Pride said. Among them: better emergency medical care, improved engineering of vehicles and roads, and law enforcement and educational efforts by various agencies.
This year, the patrol partly credits an increased focus on high-traffic metropolitan areas that tend to have more crash deaths than others. Hamilton County, which includes Cincinnati, had 18 fewer traffic fatalities in 2013 than the previous year, and the total for Franklin County, which includes Columbus, dropped by 11, according to preliminary counts earlier this week.
The patrol also points to seatbelt use and driver impairment as key factors affecting the number of deaths. The number of alcohol-related crash deaths decreased significantly in 2013, as did the number of people who died who were not wearing seatbelts, Pride said.
The vast majority of deadly crashes involve single fatalities. In a rare occurrence this year, Ohio had two crashes that each killed six people.
A March 10 crash in Warren, in northeast Ohio, killed the 19-year-old driver of a speeding SUV and five of the seven teenagers riding with her. In mid-October, a man, his wife and their four daughters died when a police cruiser responding to a robbery report struck their car at an intersection near Columbus.