Road safety a challenge as congestion increases


As more cars take to the roads each year, they bring with them greater congestion, traffic problems and a climbing accident rate. Counties that have seen a development boom, such as Anne Arundel, are especially prone to these problems.

"It's safe to say as development increases, traffic congestion increases," said David Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration. "If there is a 3 percent to 4 percent increase in traffic in any given year, you are going to see the same increase in crashes."

Between 2000 and 2004, Anne Arundel County's population grew by 3.9 percent according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Buck said that jurisdictions such as Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Prince George's and Montgomery counties see higher accident rates in part because they have more roads than the more rural counties in the state.

"They are larger counties, more suburban, with more vehicles, more congestion. It's just the way it is," Buck said.

In 2004, most accidents in Anne Arundel County happened during rush hour -- between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. During the week, there were more accidents resulting in property damage, while the majority of fatal accidents happened on the weekends, according to statistics from the Maryland State Police.

Amanda Knittle, spokeswoman for AAA, said trends in the county in the time and type of accidents that occur are consistent with trends across the state.

But in 2004, Anne Arundel saw a greater decrease in the number of traffic fatalities than did the state. Fatal accidents in the county decreased by 21 percent that year, while the state saw only 1 percent fewer fatal accidents in 2004, Knittle said.

While traffic fatalities overall declined, the county has seen an increase in motorcycle accidents. Both Buck of the SHA and Philip Sause, program coordinator for the Motorcycle Safety Program in Maryland, said that motorcycle accidents are on the rise, and the increase can't be explained by normal population growth.

"Motorcycle sales are still up, but the rate of crashes exceeds that growth," Sause said.

The Motorcycle Safety Program was started in 1984 by legislation passed by the Maryland General Assembly and is run by the Motor Vehicle Administration. Its main goal is to help to train riders and encourage them to get licensed. The program has trained more than 70,000 people since it started, Sause said.

Part of the program is to raise awareness about motorcycles by drivers of passenger vehicles.

"It's hard to determine the success of the program," Sause said. "You can't measure crashes prevented as a result of driver training."

Anne Arundel is taking steps to make the roads safer for all vehicles by installing battery backups for some of the county's traffic lights. In case of a power outage, the battery would allow the light to continue working.

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