AUGUSTA — Maine's new Strategic Highway Safety Plan, released Jan. 30, presents an action plan of action to combat current trend of increased fatalities. This plan addresses behavioral, enforcement, engineering and emergency response aspects.
Maine's traffic fatalities have been on the rise during the last three years after seeing improvement over the prior decade.
Maine records approximately 33,000 crashes each year and the state has seen a recent five-year average of approximately 150 crash deaths and thousands of injuries. While that is an improvement over the levels seen 10-plus years ago, the number of fatalities has increased in Maine and nationwide in the past several years.
Many other states have seen similar trends that are occurring during this time of an improving economy and lower gas prices. These two factors are resulting in increased travel. Statistically, increased miles traveled generally means an increase in crashes.
"Safety is our number one priority at the Maine Department of Transportation," said MaineDOT Commissioner David Bernhardt, in a news release. "This Strategic Highway Safety Plan is an important interagency tool to identify and take action in the areas of most concern. I want to thank the other agencies and coalitions that contributed their invaluable input toward supporting the national goal of driving toward zero deaths."
"Crashes are not accidents," said Highway Safety Director Lauren Stewart. "While some may be unintentional they are also unavoidable. Human behavior and driver actions such as speeding, driving impaired and distracted or unbuckled, lead to approximately 33,000 motor vehicle related crashes each year, with serious and sometimes fatal injuries. When you're behind the wheel - just drive - everything else can wait."
For instance, at intersections, the DOT report said:
Drivers had the following contributing factors reported in the most recent five-year period:
• Driver inattention/distraction – 21,600
• Failure to yield right of way – 11,800
• Following too close – 9,000
• Illegal/unsafe speed – 3,400
• Ran red light or stop sign – 3,300
• Improper turn –1,900
Pedestrian fatalities that historically were averaging just over 10 per year, have spiked the last three years. Annual totals during 2015 through 2017 are 19, 17 and 20.
Motorcycle fatalities have been averaging 20 per year with two of the last three years being high — 2015 at 32 and 2017 at 27 fatalities.
"With 94 percent of crashes being the result of driver behavior we know that our risk on Maine's roads can be improved," said Pat Moody, manager of public affairs AAA Northern New England. "This plan is the result of Maine's collaborative effort to reduce crashes and fatalities on our roadways. By working together to develop this data driven safety plan, we have focused attention on key improvements or activities that are effective at reducing the likelihood of crashes in our state."
The newly released SHSP is timely with the latest increasing fatality trend. Strategic areas were reviewed and updated to reflect current safety initiatives.