CITYWIDE — For the first time in a long time, Santa Monica experienced no fatal traffic accidents over the last 12 months, a remarkable statistic given the volume of vehicle trips that take place in this bustling city by the sea, authorities said.

Santa Monica Police Department Investigator Chris Dawson, who handles traffic accidents, said the last fatal traffic accident occurred on Dec. 15 of last year when an 82-year-old pedestrian was struck by a truck while crossing the street at the intersection of 18th Street and California Avenue. The driver, a resident from Torrance, was traveling west on California Avenue when he made a left turn and struck the pedestrian. The driver was charged with vehicular manslaughter with negligence and he is expected back in court Jan. 26, city officials said.

“This is very rare,” Dawson said of the absence of a fatal traffic accident. “The last time we came close was the year of the Farmer’s Market crash. If that wouldn’t have happened we wouldn’t have had any fatalities.”

The July 2003 Farmer’s Market crash involving an elderly man who killed 10 people and injured more than 70 others was one of the deadliest traffic accidents in state history.

Dawson credits the drop in fatal accidents to educational campaigns about driving while talking on cell phones or texting, aggressive traffic enforcement and better engineering of roadways.

“And, overall, people are just driving better,” Dawson said.

The main cause of fatal car crashes is speed, Dawson said.

“You don’t have to be traveling 90 mph for an accident to occur,” he said. “You just have to be driving faster than the conditions allow, not paying attention to what’s going on ahead of you and not giving yourself ample time to react.”

Dawson said all types of traffic accidents have decreased over the last year, including hit-and-runs. Dawson said in the mid-1990s he remembers the number of fatal traffic accidents reaching an all-time high of 15 a year.

‘We have big city traffic for a small town,” he said. “I can never remember a time, and I’ve been here 20 years, when we’ve had a year without a fatality.”

With Christmas and New Year’s Eve approaching, law enforcement authorities are warning people to be careful while traveling to and from gatherings.

“Pay attention to the task at hand,” Dawson said. “When operating a motor vehicle you should be doing nothing else.”

kevinh@www.smdp.com

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