July 22, 2001 11:00 pm

Union County earned a noteworthy distinction in 2000 neither traffic fatality that occurred here involved alcohol.

Its a noteworthy mark, since according to the Oregon Department of Transportations Safety Division, 44 percent, or 198, of the states 451 traffic deaths in the state involved alcohol or other drugs.

So far this year, figures tabulated through June show that Baker, Wallowa and Union counties have all recorded just one traffic fatality apiece.

ODOT safety experts point to three major factors involved in serious crashes that injure or kill people. Alcohol or other drug use tops the list, followed by speeding. The final factor is often the failure to use safety belts.

Oregon should be proud of our safety record because it represents a lot of hard work by a lot of dedicated people, said Troy Costales, manager of ODOTs safety division. But every fatality is a tragedy to families and communities.