Fresno County hears regional crash statistics

California Highway Patrol delivers crash statistics to Fresno County Board of Supervisors, reminds drivers that the basics help prevent accidents

California High Patrol Captain Austin Matulonis presenting the Fresno County Board of Supervisors with the car crash statistics for the Fresno County region. (Darren Fraser)
California High Patrol Captain Austin Matulonis presenting the Fresno County Board of Supervisors with the car crash statistics for the Fresno County region. (Darren Fraser)
Darren Fraser
Published April 24, 2024  • 
11:00 am

FRESNO COUNTY — At its last meeting, the Fresno Board of Supervisors (Board) heard some sobering statistics from the California Highway Patrol regarding vehicular accidents and fatalities in Fresno County. But, as CHP Captain Austin Matulonis explained to the Board, there was nothing remotely mysterious regarding the causes of these accidents.

“We do have a problem with our fatal picture,” Matulonis said during his presentation on April 24. In the county in 2023, the CHP responded to 5,192 crashes, 3,117 of which involved property damage. Of these crashes, nearly 1,200 resulted in injuries. And of these, 87 resulted in fatalities.

“There are 18 (CHP) dispatch centers in the state,” said Matulonis. “Of those, Fresno is the busiest dispatch center in the entire state. We took over 300,000 calls last year.”

The CHP covers 4,000 square miles of the county and Los Banos. Matulonis said there are about 60 officers working any given shift. He said his agency had about 40,000 enforcement contacts last year.

“Statewide, we are down bodies,” he said. “Just as every other law enforcement agency is.” He added the CHP is attempting to ramp up its staffing levels. It currently has three academy classes going, which Matulonis said is historic for the organization.

PCFS

Matulonis said from 2016 through 2023, 720 died in vehicular accidents in the county. He said despite the thousands of enforcement contacts and the over 7,000 motor services the CHP extended to drivers, the five primary collision factors (PCFs) driving these accidents remain largely unchanged.

“Speed, unsafe turn movements, DUI, unsafe lane changes and failure to stop at stop signs,” he said.

He told the Board the CHP is taking a proactive stance to reduce accidents and fatalities.

“We’re doing our enforcement campaigns,” Matulonis said. “Enforcement details where sergeants take our shifts and go out and target specific problem areas. We’re really big on our education component. If we can get into the communities and start educating people on proper driving habits? That’s what we need.”

He added the department is focusing on preventing, responding and identifying.

“We’re focusing on removing impaired drivers through our (DUI) checkpoints,” he said. He said education is also a primary component in the campaign to reduce accidents.

“Look at our peak group – those who crash most are the (ages) 16 through 18 group,” he said. “Then it drops. You know where it spikes again? Fifty. There’s a peak at 50 and then it goes down. We need to target those peaks and educate those groups.”

He reminded the Board and the audience that paying attention to the fundamentals of driving is integral to safety.

“We want to tell the public: don’t drive impaired. Wear your seatbelt. Don’t drive distracted. Watch your speed,” he said. 

He added, “And this is the most important thing you can do: be kind and courteous to each other on the road. We’ve forgotten that. We get in that bubble, put on the music, fiddle with phones, and forget to be kind and courteous. If we work together, we can reduce those numbers because they’re unacceptable in my book. My family lives here. Your families live here. We need to stop this. That is my goal and our goal. We’re here to help.”

Board chairman Nathan Magsig said he was shocked to learn that 26% of accidents in Fresno County involved unlicensed drivers.

“That’s shocking to me,” he said, “because many times when we see these accidents, many people say, ‘Government needs to be doing more.’ But at the end of the day, people need to follow the law. And there are a lot of people out there speeding.”

Mendes added, “They (CHP) not only have to put up with unlicensed drivers, but they also have to put up with stupid drivers.”

Magsig concluded the presentation by telling Matulonis, “We will stand with you on any campaign or endeavor to reduce these accidents.”

Darren Fraser
Reporter