Statistically speaking, it’s a good year to go for a drive. According to the Vermont Highway Safety Alliance, the number of traffic fatalities is half of what it was a year ago. State transportation officials aren’t sure why, but they say it may be due to better and more widely shared data.
By mid October of last year, 64 people had died in traffic crashes in Vermont. But so far this year, the number of roadway fatalities is 32, a dramatic drop.
Kevin Marshia is chairman of the Vermont Highway Safety Alliance, a two-year-old organization made up of private, public and nonprofit groups that work together to help reduce crashes in Vermont. “There really isn’t one thing that you can point to and say that’s the moment when we reduced fatalities,” says Marshia. “It really is the partnership of a lot of people from enforcement to education, engineering - different things. It’s really a combination of a lot of different factors.”
As an example, Marshia points to a recent collaboration between AAA, law enforcement and the Vermont Youth Safety Council to educate high school students on the dangers of driving while texting.
Similar joint efforts have been put into action to help educate Vermonters on the new law that bans hand-held devices while driving.
But Marshia, who’s also deputy chief engineer for the Vermont Agency of Transportation, says the availability of more crash data is also helping, enabling state agencies, municipalities and law enforcement to make better-informed decisions regarding traffic safety.
“The data that’s out there is allowing people to look at, as an example, targeted speed enforcement, looking at crashes, law enforcement is looking at that data,” says Marshia. “In terms of infrastructure improvements,” he continues, “we’re looking at different areas where we see an increase in crashes and we’re using rumble stripes and roundabouts or different types of treatments to address and attack the crash issues that exist in different locations.”
Keith Flynn, commissioner of Vermont’s Department of Public Safety, says data is also showing how the type of impaired drivers in crashes are changing. For instance, this year he says there were more fatalities related to marijuana use than alcohol, which he says was surprising. “The days when we were just dealing with just alcohol, and alcohol was the focus, we can’t have that mindset anymore,” says Flynn. “Because many times we find multiple substances that a person’s been using before they’ve been driving, so that presents a new challenge to law enforcement.”
Flynn, who oversees the State Police, says this means they’ll likely need more drug interaction experts as well as different types of testing equipment and more training. “The traditional road side sobriety tests may not do it now for people on drugs, " he says. "It presents a whole new array of issues for us and we’re doing our best to meet them.”