In October of 2021, Kelly Patino Riley was riding passenger on the back of a motorcycle when a red Camaro driver going 101 mph hit and killed her.
The crash happened in a Pinellas Park neighborhood with a 35-mph speed limit. After the Camaro’s driver hit Kelly, he took out a street sign and plowed into a church.
Kelly Riley’s death left her four children — now 3, 9, 10, and 12 years old — without a mother. What’s worse: Their father, Lance, had been killed in a bicycle crash five months earlier. Devastating, to say the least.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly 43,000 people died on a U.S. road in 2021. The high number is the highest death toll in 16 years.
The spike was even more dramatic in Florida — with Hillsborough and Pinellas County being two of the biggest contenders in the traffic game.
Florida traffic deaths jumped by nearly 13% to 3,753 fatalities. In Hillsborough County, the increase was 28% to 273 people killed, according to statistics from Signal Four Analytics, a tool that uses data from law enforcement. In Pinellas, there was a 48% surge to 160 deaths on roads.
So, what is to blame for such staggering numbers? Experts blame several factors, including the number of miles people drove in 2021, which was 11% higher than in 2020.
With people still working from home and having more flexible schedules, rush hour was less-packed. Without heavy traffic, people were more apt to drive faster, leading to higher numbers of deadly crashes. Of the 160 people who died in a Pinellas traffic crash in 2021, 61 were pedestrians hit by a speeding vehicle.
The top three most dangerous roads are Brandon Boulevard between Falkenburg and Dover roads; Gibsonton Drive from Interstate 75 to Balm Riverview Road; and Hillsborough Avenue from Longboat Boulevard to Florida Avenue.
There are some low-cost, quick fixes Pinellas is implementing on its roads. For example, Pinellas County is working with the Florida Department of Transportation to change signals in the county, so pedestrians will have a walk signal during a red light, allowing them to cross at the intersection and be seen before drivers turn right to have a green light.
In the long term, several projects are underway to make Pinellas roads become what officials call “complete streets.” These complete streets are roads designed with all users in mind, including drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists. These new streets may feature sidewalks, bike lanes, narrower roads, or designated bus lanes.
Several “complete streets” are already in Hillsborough County, and crashes have dropped significantly because of improvements.