Road deaths in Carroll hold steady

No rise in fatality rate despite population boom

January 07, 2002|By Ellie Baublitz | Ellie Baublitz,SUN STAFF

Although Carroll's population has doubled in the past 20 years, the number of fatalities on the county's increasingly congested highways and roads has remained stable, Maryland State Police say.

Eighteen people were killed among 1,464 traffic accidents on county roads last year, and three were pedestrian fatalities, said Lt. Terry Katz, commander of the Maryland State Police barracks in Westminster.

"It's unusual to have three pedestrian fatalities," Katz said.

The number of fatalities has fluctuated between 14 and 31 since 1980, and it generally falls between 15 and 20. In 2000, only eight deaths were reported on county roads, state police said.

"There's no pattern or rhyme or reason to the fatalities," Katz said. "We have locations where we get accidents, but not fatals. Most of these [fatals] were on secondary roads. And many occur on bright, sunny days."

Last year, the fatalities included three pedestrians and three motorcyclists, police said. "Two [of the pedestrian accidents] appeared to be alcohol-related - they walked out in traffic - and [the other] fell off a bicycle," Katz said.

The pedestrian fatalities have prompted state police to work with the Health Department and Chamber of Commerce to educate people and businesses about pedestrian safety, especially along busy Route 140, where all three deaths occurred. State police are considering printing brochures with pedestrian safety information to distribute at motels and creating an education program with Junction Inc.

Police say several factors contribute to the county's stable numbers, including better-built cars, improvements to major roads, the state's mandatory seat belt law, and a crackdown on drunken and aggressive drivers.

"The seat belt clearly, absolutely, is what saves lives," said 1st Sgt. Dean Richardson, assistant commander of the Westminster barracks.

State police randomly check student motorists at the county's high schools to ensure they are wearing seat belts and encourage youths to use them, even when they are passengers in the back seat.

"We can't make people better drivers," Katz said, "but we can enforce the laws and make them wear a seat belt."

New laws are helping police target drunken and aggressive drivers. One lowers the legal blood-alcohol level from 0.10 percent to 0.08 percent. The other allows fines for aggressive driving violations.

Police can charge aggressive drivers with up to three related violations on one ticket, rather than charging them separately or picking the most severe offense, Katz said. Drivers who speed, tailgate or change lanes erratically can be fined up to $500 and receive points on their license.

"We know speed, changing lanes and following too closely are major accident contributors," Katz said.

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