State concerned over rise in traffic fatalities

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(Host) State officials are concerned about the growing number of traffic fatalities in Vermont this year.

The state is on a pace to record the highest number of highway deaths in over 25 years.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) 2006 is shaping up to be a deadly year on Vermont highways.

Last year, there were 73 traffic fatalities in the state. This year Vermont is on a trend line to record 130 deaths. That’s a 75 % increase in one year.

Jeannie Johnson is the director of the Governor’s Highway Safety program – she says driver distraction is a major factor in many of these accidents:

(Johnson) “I believe it’s huge between driver distraction and aggressive and speeding driving. I think it’s absolutely huge and I would guess it’s about half of the crashes seems like people feel more and more pressured to get more and more done and to get where they’re going faster.”

(Kinzel) Johnson says state officials are taking a two pronged approach to deal with this problem:

(Johnson) “We are trying to get the word out through enforcement and education our mini granted projects the main message is that driving is a full time job who’s driving your vehicle if you’re not paying attention who’s in control of that vehicle the answer is nobody and it’s just a disaster waiting to happen.”

(Kinzel) State Police Lt. Alan Buck says law enforcement officials are seeing a variety of cases of driver distraction:

(Buck) “We have cell phones, we’ve had them putting their make-up on, reading the papers doing all kinds of stuff they shouldn’t be doing when they’re driving and going fast.”

(Kinzel) Buck says a recent pilot project in Chittenden County demonstrates that comprehensive enforcement and education programs can be very effective.

The southbound lane of Interstate 89, just north of Burlington, as the road crosses the Winooksi River, has been the scene of many accidents.

Buck says a safety campaign targeted specifically at this location has been a great success:

(Buck) “We did a lot of education. We did the media. We put press releases out. We had AOT put a big electronic sign up going into that area that we were watching speeds and then we put marked cars out there. I think we’ve written a couple of hundred violations by now since it started two and a half months ago.”

(Kinzel) Buck says it’s hard to sustain these kinds of projects for a long time because they require a lot of resources but he says they can be a very effective way to change driver behavior in the most dangerous parts of the state.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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