MDOT, law enforcement partners announce 2021 figures and urge commitment to safety; Survey indicates 93% of Marylanders consider unsafe driving a major problem
While states across the country experienced an increase in roadway fatalities in 2021, Maryland saw a decline of nearly 3% compared to 573 fatalities in 2020. State transportation and law enforcement officials gathered in April to announce the data, and said despite the decrease, Maryland still saw an unacceptable number of crashes – 519 – resulting in 557 fatalities, including 129 pedestrians and six bicyclists.
Per MDOT’s Press release:
“We have the ability, and the responsibility, to stop these needless tragedies,” said Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) Secretary James F. Ports, Jr. “Today, I challenge every person – every driver, passenger, motorcyclist, pedestrian, bicyclist – every single person who uses our roadways. Let’s work together to bring the number of fatalities on Maryland roads to zero.”
Secretary Ports joined with MDOT Motor Vehicle Administration (MDOT MVA) Administrator Chrissy Nizer, Maryland State Police (MSP) Superintendent Col. Woodrow W. Jones III and other transportation officials, traffic safety leaders, law enforcement officials and safety advocates at the Maryland Highway Safety Summit. The summit is an annual meeting of safety leaders and stakeholders to develop steps for Maryland’s Strategic Highway Safety Plan, a five-year program with the goal of eliminating traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. “Every year, we make the tragic announcement of the number of people who have lost their life due to preventable crashes on our roadways,” said Administrator Nizer, who also serves as Governor Larry Hogan’s Highway Safety Representative. “We are committed to zero deaths through a variety of strategies, but it’s up to each of us to be a responsible road user every time we get in a vehicle by wearing a seat belt, slowing down, driving sober, staying focused and sharing the road with pedestrians, bicyclists and motorcyclists.”
“Impaired driving, speeding, distracted and aggressive driving continue to be actions that lead to tragedies on our roads. Safety on our roadways is top priority, and that’s why we join forces to focus on the driving behaviors that most contribute to crashes,” said Superintendent Col. Jones. “As Maryland State Police continue to work statewide and around the clock to remove these dangerous drivers from our highways, we are proud to join this ongoing effort to move toward zero deaths.” According to a recent Road Safety Attitudes and Behavior survey conducted by WBA Research on behalf of MDOT, the majority of Maryland road users across all regions and demographic groups consider unsafe driving a major problem. Yet, every year familiar factors contribute to roadway fatalities: speed, distractions, impairment by alcohol and drugs, and lack of seat belt use.
Speeding and Aggressive Driving
Speeding is a significant aggressive driving behavior and is estimated to be a contributing factor in more than one-third of all fatal crashes nationwide. Yet in the survey:
- About 41% of drivers surveyed admitted to frequently or sometimes driving 15 MPH or more over the speed limit on a highway (55 MPH); and
- Another 37% of drivers admitted to driving 10 MPH or more over the speed limit on a residential street (30 MPH) in the past 30 days.
The probability of death or serious injury grows with impacts at higher speeds, doubling for every 10 MPH over 50 MPH that a vehicle travels. A pedestrian or bicyclist struck by a motorist driving 40 MPH is eight times more likely to die than a pedestrian or bicyclist struck at 20 MPH.
Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety
Everyone is a pedestrian at some point, and it’s important that everyone does their part to share the road. Pedestrians should always follow traffic rules and cross at designated pedestrian crossings wherever possible. In the survey:
- 57% of respondents said they don’t feel comfortable walking along or crossing roadways.
- However, 37% said they always utilize a crosswalk when available.
In 2020, 88 pedestrians were killed at locations other than crosswalks – including walking on the shoulder, in the median, or at an intersection not within the available crosswalk.
- 76% of cyclists who bike along roadways indicated in the survey that they follow the same rules of the road that they would in a car.
- 61% reported wearing bright or reflective clothing and/or outfitting their bikes with lights for riding in poor visibility situations.
- 52% of bicyclists who ride on roadways felt comfortable in a bike lane in the last 30 days.
- However, this drops to 38% when there is no bike lane available.
Seat Belt Use
The perceived importance of and reported seat belt use among Maryland drivers appears to be widespread, but not universal. About two-thirds of respondents said they always wear a seat belt while riding in the back seat of a vehicle. Exposure to unbelted occupants increases the risk of injury or death to others in the vehicle by 40% as they can become projectiles in the event of a crash.
- 5% of drivers surveyed admitted to not wearing their seat belt when sitting in the front seat of the car.
- That percentage increases to 8% when the driver was traveling within 5 miles or 10 minutes of home.
While the 8% figure is a seemingly low percentage of survey respondents, short, routine trips can be some of the most dangerous. Most crash-related deaths happen within 25 miles from home and at speeds of less than 40 mph.
Although the use of a hand-held cell phone is the only citable offense for distracted driving in Maryland, there are multiple distractions that can lead to a crash. Drivers surveyed admitted to the following distracted behaviors:
- Talking on a cell phone using a hands-free device while driving (61%),
- Actively searching for radio programming while driving (50%),
- Actively searching for or skipping through an audio stream while driving (47%),
- Programming a mobile GPS app or another GPS/guidance system while driving (46%),
- Feeling distracted by other vehicles (42%), and
- Using a mobile app while driving (excluding GPS) (37%).
Distracted driving contributes to more than one-third of motor vehicle fatalities in Maryland. Drivers are reminded to put the phone down and only focus on driving.
Impaired driving is 100% preventable; however, over the past five years in Maryland, nearly 800 people have been killed in crashes involving an impaired driver. When asked about the reason for not driving impaired, respondents reported:
- Fear of harm to themselves (86%) or others (79%) was cited by respondents as top reasons for not driving impaired.
- However, more than 3% of those surveyed admitted to driving impaired in the past 30 days.
- 53% of drivers listed fear of arrest as influential on their decision to drive sober, yet more than 17,000 drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol in Maryland last year.
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