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Valley News – Car deaths rise

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Highway deaths in Vermont have risen steadily since 2019, and 74 road deaths in 2021 recorded the highest number in Vermont in nearly a decade.

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So far this year, things are worse. The state suffered 25 highway deaths in 2022, more than sixteen deaths recorded a year earlier at this time.

“We’re past … where we normally are at this time of year,” said Mandy White, director of data in the Vermont Transportation Agency’s Office of Operations and Safety. “We are heading to very high levels this year.”

In 2021, speed was the most common factor in fatal Vermont crashes, according to state statistics. Drivers 65 years of age or older had higher than average death rates. And according to the state, driving under the influence of alcohol, cannabis or other drugs was also a common factor. Cannabis and other drugs have been a factor in more fatal accidents than alcohol alone.

Motorcyclist accidents accounted for 16 of the 69 fatal accidents in Vermont in 2021. The number of motorcyclist deaths has increased steadily since 2018, and “this year we’ve already had three accidents and haven’t made it to the summer months yet,” he said. Acting Lieutenant Paul. Ravelin of the Vermont State Police Bureau of Traffic Safety.

“This is a concern that law enforcement is looking into,” Ravelin said. “With soaring fuel prices, we may see more people using motorbikes.”

Nationwide, nearly 43,000 people died on the roads in 2021, according to an Associated Press report. It was the highest number of deaths in the last 16 years and exceeded 10.5% before 2020, the largest percentage increase since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began collecting death data in 1975.

Traffic fatalities were on the rise even in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, despite declining road use, according to estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

“Vermont is a rural state. “We don’t have a lot of areas with easy access to public transportation, so most people who have to go about their day to day work in Vermont need to use the roads,” Ravlin said. “They’re on our roads; they’re vulnerable to these bad trends.”

State Police reported a slight increase in aggressive driving, distracted driving, lack of seat belt use and impairment due to alcohol or other drugs, all linked to accidents that resulted in death or serious injury.

“We work closely with our partners at the Vermont Highway Safety Office, at the Vermont Transportation Agency and see the same data they see. We’re engaging and talking with our local partners,” said Rafflin. “This is an unacceptable trend and we are all on the same page, and we agree that we have to come up with solutions to make it go the other way.”

Reckless driving increased across the United States once the pandemic broke out during March 2020, according to the Associated Press. Speeding and lower seat belt use continued into 2021, as people began to travel more as pandemic guidelines eased.

Both Ravelin and White believe the pandemic may have contributed to Vermont’s increase in deaths.

“The traffic has increased, but I feel that people definitely took more chances during the pandemic and that the risk hasn’t subsided as more traffic is added to the road,” White said.

Lt. Allen Fortin, a member of the Vermont Bureau of Highway Safety and an officer with the Chittenden County Police Department, believes that drivers realized that police cut off public contact early in the pandemic — for the safety of officers — and weren’t catching petty crime at their typical rates.

“People got something like cabin fever from staying home all the time,” Fortin said. “Now they’re out and about and they’re getting more freedom. So yeah, they’re taking a few more chances than they should.”

As part of a multi-pronged effort to increase driver safety in Vermont, Fortin coordinates “Click It or Ticket” press events each year to promote seat belt use, most recently on Monday.

The initial number and overall percentage of accident deaths related to people not using seat belts reached a high in 2021, with 28 crash deaths representing 61% of all deaths involving vehicles equipped with seat belts.

Fortin regularly collaborates with community partners, such as Students Against Destructive Decisions, to hold Click It or Ticket events. The Vermont section of the student group competed in a seatbelt race against the New York section of Monday’s event.

“It’s just fun,” said Fortin. “But she came up with the idea that we are crossing the border. We try to get the students to realize that seat belts are important and save lives. Then we had a little barbecue afterwards.”

Fortin also works on getting Click It or ticket stickers on the back of vehicles as another way to raise public awareness. He currently has 20 trucking companies on board.

“If we can save one life by having someone in the seat belt over these dead people, isn’t it worth it?” Ask Fortin.

He said Vermont is close to 89% of seatbelt use compliance, which is relatively high for a state that has a secondary adult-only seatbelt law. This means that adults can be fined for not using seat belts, but the police cannot stop them just for this reason.

“We feel we can get past the 90% mark, but we need the public’s help to do that,” he said. He said he would “love to see” a preliminary law, that would allow police to pull people over for not wearing seat belts, “but that’s up to lawmakers and the Vermont public.”

Other outreach efforts include regional campaigns to express a strong police presence on the roads, particularly in areas with high accident rates, and partnering with driver education programs to encourage young drivers to develop healthy driving habits.

“One of the biggest pieces of this whole puzzle is that law enforcement alone can’t get out of this, we can’t stop our way out of this, these trends. It requires a partnership with all the stakeholders who are involved in the use of the roads,” Rafflin said.

He said Vermont State Police is also trying to educate drivers who have been stopped for speeding or traffic violations.

People are advised to build a temporary time, and leave on time, so there is no need to rush. It also tells drivers to abide by the posted speed limits, to avoid impeding driving and to wear seat belts.

“Just take a general responsibility to the road, not just to yourself but to other motorists around you,” he said.

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