MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) - Fatal traffic accidents appear to be on the rise in Alabama and budget cuts may be behind the increase. Experts say cuts to the General Fund Budget and fewer state troopers on the roads, could be to blame.
The number of traffic deaths had been trending down in recent years but 2016 is a different, deadly story.
According to the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, troopers have investigated 456 fatalities so far this year. Last year at this time we were at 349. The increase of 107 more fatalities has law enforcement officers worried.
"This is the most, the highest increase that I've seen in my career of 20 years," said Sgt. Steve Jarrett with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency.
Jarrett says there's a direct correlation between the trooper manpower shortage and the deadly statistic.
"As our numbers go down, as far as troopers on the road, we do see an increase in traffic fatalities and it makes sense because when there are less troopers on the road, they're a visible reminder of highway safety and we do enforce traffic laws and right now with the very limited manpower we have, there's very little enforcement of the traffic laws," said Sgt. Jarrett.
Sgt. Jarrett also points to other factors and variables to consider behind the increase.
"Gas prices for example, gas prices go down, people tend to travel more, the economy gets better people tend to take more vacations," said Jarrett.
But authorities says the public should be concerned and drivers like Tony Turner say they're disturbed, but see firsthand the impact of the shortfall.
"On my way to work, cars are driving directly at me and I'm blowing my horn and they'll look up at the last minute and be texting," said Turner, a Montgomery resident.
Due to a lack of funding, Jarrett says they haven't been able to hire since 2010.
"Troopers are stretched very thin; that means they have to cover multiple counties, drive greater distances to respond to calls and it takes up more time, so about 70 percent of a trooper's shift is responding to calls for service," said Sgt. Jarrett.
Which leaves only 30 percent for proactive enforcement.
"It's nothing to stop people traveling over 100 miles an hour these days," said Jarrett.
To see a fatality increase of this magnitude nine months into the year is 'significant' according to troopers, and drivers agree.
"You always see people driving crazy and erratic," said Steve Shalayda.
"I see a lot of accidents on the interstate," said Marceie McWhorter.
To further highlight the need and the effects of the shortfall, ALEA points to a University of Alabama Study. The study found that Alabama needed some 1100 troopers to adequately patrol a state of our size; Jarrett says we're down to about 260.
ALEA says they've been working closely with the legislature and lawmakers have told troopers they're going to do their best to find the funding.