Road deaths drop to 19 during 1997 Toll is 2nd-lowest in 12 years

Md. deaths also dip

Drivers 'more responsible'

State police credit seat-belt use, better upkeep of highways

January 12, 1998|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

Fatal accidents on Carroll County highways last year -- 19 people died in 17 accidents -- were the second-fewest in a dozen years.

Only in 1994, when 17 died in Carroll County, have the numbers been lower, state police records show.

Preliminary statewide figures indicate 591 people were killed last year, the fewest since 1968. That total may increase before the books are closed, but police believe it likely will be lower than the 615 fatalities reported in 1996.

Mandatory use of seatbelts, which went into effect Oct. 1, is an obvious factor in fatalities, said 1st Sgt. Andy Mays, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police in Westminster.

Mays also credited state and county road crews with building and maintaining safer highways and roads.

Other factors -- improved education against drinking and driving and better law enforcement against speeders -- have had an impact, he said.

State Highway Administration officials say safety enhancements, such as "rumble strips" to awaken drowsy drivers who start drifting off highways, have helped reduce fatalities.

State police analysts say alcohol, failure to use seat belts, failure to drive in a single lane and pedestrian error appear to be the most common causes of deaths on state roads last year, but calculation of annual percentages have not been completed to determine trends.

Raising speed limits on portions of certain interstate highways -- widely expected to contribute to more deaths -- has not caused a rapid increase in fatalities.

The higher speed limits may be offset by greater public awareness, stricter enforcement and increased crackdowns on aggressive drivers, police said.

Since posted limits on Interstate 95 between the Baltimore and Washington beltways were recently raised from 55 mph to 65 mph, state police said they have issued an average of 100 tickets a day in that 21-mile stretch.

According to the latest statistics available, troopers issued more than 144,000 tickets statewide to aggressive drivers from January to November.

Increased patrols as well as a growing number of motorists reporting reckless drivers by cellular telephone has helped improve enforcement, police said.

Mays said he also believes Carroll County drivers appear more responsible.

"Each year, about 3,000 more cars are registered in Carroll County," he said.

"With fatal accidents declining despite the increase in traffic, it figures that more drivers are doing what they should be doing -- wearing seat belts, using designated drivers -- and just being more responsible."

In Westminster, municipal police had reported one fatality a year between 1989 and 1995, but none for the past two years.

Lt. Dean Brewer, a spokesman for Westminster police, said greater public awareness and increased radar patrols have helped reduce traffic accidents.

"We may have about the same number of accident reports -- the figures for 1997 are not tallied yet -- but with the increased population and greater number of vehicles on the road, that means the numbers [proportionally] are declining," Brewer said.

A speed monitor trailer, which flashes the speed of an approaching vehicle, also helps make drivers more aware of how fast they are traveling, Brewer said.

"As soon as motorists see their speed, they immediately hit the brakes and check their speedometers," he said.

Local and state police are also using around-the-clock radar patrols to curtail speeding, he said.

Pub Date: 1/12/98

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