Alcohol, pedestrians, distractions lead causes of Maryland fatal crashes

State working for zero deaths

The goal is a reduction of 19.8 percent.

That’s the number officials hope to see as they work on reducing fatalities on Maryland roads from 592 in 2008 to 475 by 2015.

Those at the Maryland Highway Safety Office are hopeful the goal can be attained, with a mix of engineering, education and enforcement. 

“Our goal is zero deaths,” said Thomas Gianni, executive officer of the Maryland Highway Safety Office, “We are making great progress, but there will always be challenges.”

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To achieve its safety reduction, the highway safety office adopted the Toward Zero Deaths strategy developed by the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials.

Through data gathering and roadway projects, the goal of the initiative is to gradually reduce traffic fatalities significantly in the state by 2030.

Gianni said the outreach has been paying off.

During the mid-1980s there were an average of 805 fatalities a year over a three year period, including 1987 when the state experienced its highest number of highway deaths -- 830.

“Last year, we had 466 deaths,” he said. “That’s the lowest it’s been since 1961.”

According to the the Maryland Highway Safety Office’s 2014 Safety Plan, one of the leading causes of traffic fatalities continues to be distracting driving.

Gianni said distracted driving is a broad term that encompasses many causes for accidents.

To better understand what types of “distracted driving” incidents cause accidents, the safety office is putting together an electronic report with 19 different types of "distractions" that will be available for law enforcement to list on reports.

Between 2008-2011, Maryland had an average of 257 distracted driving deaths. Alcohol and pedestrian accidents rounded out the top three causes of traffic fatalities.

Even with the push on driver safety, Gianni said the state faces challenges.

One of the biggest problem areas in the state has to do with the increasing number of pedestrian fatalities.

“It’s a number that is trending in the wrong direction,” he said. “It’s something that is so unpredictable, but obviously something we need to address.”

Gianni said more is being done to understand the phenomenon.

Advocates for safer roads say they are happy that the state is looking into making roads safer, but feel local jurisdictions also need to be on board to make the policies a priority.

“If we are truly going to share the road,” Kevin Pline, a member of the bike safety group Bike AAA, said. “We have to make it a priority at all levels.”

With a new administration in Annapolis, he said that the administration has dropped road safety, especially in the realm of bike safety.

Pline said he was out last Thursday working with county officials on creating a new bike lane that would connect the Baltimore Annapolis Trail in Severna Park.

“We were brought in to consult in a way,” he said. “Additional bike lanes will help people better share the road.”

Pline said the county recently adopted a resolution called Complete Streets, stating the county pledged to make streets useful for all modes.

In the future, Gianni said more legislation and awareness will help his office reach its goal of zero deaths.

“One death on the road is one death too many,” he said. “Our collaborative effort will help us reach that goal.”

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