Deadly summer Highway toll: Seat-belt negligence, aggressiveness led to two deaths per day in August.

September 08, 1996

TWENTY-FIVE DAYS, 48 fatal crashes, 56 people dead. That's what the past month wrought on Maryland roads.

The Labor Day weekend was particularly gruesome, with 11 dead in eight crashes. Among them were two children, ages 3 and 5, ejected with six other passengers from a sport utility vehicle that flipped over near Hancock on the Monday holiday. The month's most spectacular accident -- a chain-reaction pile-up of 14 vehicles on an Interstate 83 bridge over the Gunpowder Falls -- resulted in no loss of life, but more than enough injury and damage.

Maryland State Police officials are troubled because the fatality count, 379, is creeping closer to last year's. It was 20 percent below 1995 at the start of summer; it is 14 percent below last year now.

During the holiday weekend, troopers issued more than 1,000 warnings and citations to motorists failing to use seat-belts or child-safety seats, as the law requires. That was particularly disturbing because Maryland consistently ranks high nationally in seat-belt compliance. As with the national war on drugs, a lack of recent publicity on seat-belt benefits is apparently contributing to a lack of vigilance.

It should not go unnoted that deaths are rising in the wake of Gov. Parris N. Glendening's feckless raising of the speed limit on non-rural highways. Speed might not have been the reason for some of the recent accidents, but the governor's policy fed the aggressive mentality menacing the roads.

His rationale, that deaths were dropping in spite of his earlier speed limit increase on rural interstates, was foolish and flawed. Advances in trauma medicine and vehicle safety had a lot to do with the improvement in fatality trends, too. By Mr. Glendening's reasoning, we should re-encourage cigarette smoking after further advances in cancer medicine.

There is too much speed, aggression and carelessness on our roads. The governor opened the summer by telegraphing a message contrary to that reality.

Pub Date: 9/08/96

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