Highway deaths at lowest recorded level Accidents took 591 lives on Maryland roads in 1997

January 07, 1998|By Marina Sarris | Marina Sarris,SUN STAFF

Highway fatalities in Maryland appear to have fallen to a

29-year low in 1997, the Maryland State Police announced yesterday.

Last year, 591 people died in traffic crashes statewide, according to preliminary figures.

Capt. Greg Shipley, a state police spokesman, said the number of deaths may increase before the books are closed on 1997, but police believe it will likely be lower than the 615 fatalities reported the year before.

The 1996 figure was the lowest since the State Highway #F Administration began keeping records in 1968.

State police will keep the records on 1997 fatalities open until the end of this month so local police agencies can finish submitting crash data. Police also will include in the fatality statistics people who die this month from injuries suffered in 1997 crashes.

Officials could not say yesterday what prompted the apparent ++ decline. They said that police enforcement efforts, weather, road improvements and safety education all might have played a role.

"Any loss of life is very unfortunate, but a decrease is a trend in the right direction," said Maryland Transportation Secretary David L. Winstead.

The State Highway Administration has improved various roads with safety enhancements, such as "rumble strips" to awaken drowsy drivers, turn lanes, and upgraded intersections and road stripes, Winstead said.

The factors most often noted as contributing to 1997 crashes include drunken driving, failure to drive within a single lane and pedestrian errors. Failure to wear seat belts also contributed to deaths, police said.

"Maryland State Police will continue their commitment to strict .. enforcement on all highways throughout Maryland, including 65 mph zones," said Col. David B. Mitchell, Maryland State Police superintendent.

"For example, since the posted speed increased on Interstate 95 between I-695 and I-495 [last month], troopers are issuing an average of 100 tickets per day on this 21-mile stretch of highway." That is an increase over the average when the road was posted at 55 mph, officials said, though they could not provide exact figures.

Pub Date: 1/07/98

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