ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. (WBTW) — Efforts to make Robeson County highways safer appear to be paying dividends.

There were 66 people killed in crashes across the county last year, three fewer than in 2021, according to preliminary statistics the North Carolina Department of Transportations shared Thursday during a meeting of the Robeson County Vision Zero Task Force in Lumberton.

Through the years, Robeson County has consistently been among the state’s deadliest for traffic crashes. With that in mind, the task force was created five years ago to increase education and awareness of traffic safety.

According to NCCOT, Robeson County saw a 9% decline in total crashes last year; that’s compared with a 3% decline statewide. There were also fewer fatal crashes in which alcohol and driving out of a lane were factors.

Grady Hunt, chairman of the local Vision Zero initiative, said efforts in engineering, enforcement, education and emergency response across multiple local and state agencies have helped make the county’s roads safer. The task force is made up of locally elected officials and representatives of major institutions.

“These numbers shared today are positive news and represent the collective hard work of many,” said Hunt, a Pembroke attorney who represents the Fayetteville-based Highway Division 6 on the North Carolina Board of Transportation. “I’m glad to see the numbers are declining again, but these figures also remind us that we’ve got to roll up our sleeves and keep being vigilant. These deaths are preventable.”

Speeding and seatbelt usage remain major areas of concern in the county. According to NCDOT, speeding was a factor in 44% of fatal crashes over the past two years in the county; the statewide average was only 32%.

In addition to hearing the news on crash data, the task force Thursday also received updates from its clergy outreach project; the North Carolina Governor’s Highway Safety Program; the North Carolina State Highway Patrol; and the Division 6 Incident Management vehicles that patrol Interstate 95.

Mark Ezzell, director of the Governors Highway Safety Program, explained his agency’s role in improving road safety in the county.

“The Governors Highway Safety Program is assisting by providing some financial support for a number projects in the county and basically following the lead of local leaders here to look at different innovative ways that we could address traffic safety concerns.”

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Dennis Bright is a digital producer at News13. Dennis is a West Virginia native and graduate of Marshall University. He has won copyediting and journalism awards in Virginia and Ohio. Follow Dennis on Twitter and read more of his work here.