Au­thor­i­ties work to keep road­ways safe

Dis­tracted driv­ing re­mains one of big­gest causes of ac­ci­dents in South­ern Mary­land

Maryland Independent - - Front Page - By AN­DREW CEPHAS acephas@somd­news.com

There were 5,761 crashes in South- ern Mary­land last year that war­rant- ed the fil­ing of a crash re­port by law en­force­ment per­son­nel, ac­cord­ing to sta­tis­tics filed by the Mary­land State Po­lice. A com­mon is­sue for law en- force­ment in each South­ern Mary- land county is dis­tracted driv­ing, and each county has its own plans and tools to com­bat this prob­lem.

While crash sta­tis­tics for years prior to 2016 are avail­able through the Mary­land Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Ad- min­is­tra­tion, last year’s sta­tis­tics are ac­ces­si­ble via Mary­land’s open data por­tal. The 2016 sta­tis­tics — which are not yet fi­nal­ized and sub­ject to change — were bro­ken down and filed quar­terly. Only ap­proved crash re­ports were in­cluded in the sta­tis­tics, which were all pro­vided by the Mary­land State Po­lice Cen­tral Records Divi­sion.

Mak­ing a dent

In South­ern Mary­land, Calvert

County saw the low­est num­ber of crashes last year and is the only county to see de­creases in both the num­ber of crashes and fa­tal­i­ties.

MSP data shows there were 1,176 crashes in the county last year, com­pared to 1,179 in 2015. While there were 13 fa­tal­i­ties in 2015, last year Calvert au­thor­i­ties han­dled 10 fa­tal­i­ties on the road­ways. Both num­bers have been fluc­tu­at­ing for the past six years.

The five-year av­er­age for the to­tal crashes is 1,141, with the low­est amount in the past five years be­ing 1,099 crashes in 2012. The low­est num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties the county has seen in the last five years was eight mor­tal­i­ties in 2014, ac­cord­ing to the sta­tis­tics. The fiveyear av­er­age for fa­tal­i­ties is 10.

Sgt. Ja­son Dean of the Calvert County Sher­iff’s Of­fice said there are var­i­ous fac­tors that con­trib­ute to crashes, “whether it’s road­way en­gi­neer­ing that we’re steadily im­prov­ing with the state high­way, out-of-sight in­ter­sec­tions, [or] the vol­ume of ve­hi­cle traf­fic that has been in­creas­ing over the last cou­ple of years.”

“As a so­ci­ety, we’re steadily chang­ing our be­hav­iors when it comes to dis­tracted driv­ing, cell­phones and tex­ting and other dis­trac­tions in­side the ve­hi­cle,” Dean ex­plained. “It’s rel­a­tively new — even for the law en­force­ment com­mu­nity — to in­ves­ti­gate crashes that are re­sults of dis­tracted driv­ing.”

Capt. David Payne, com­man­der of the pa­trol unit, said when a crash re­port is filed most crashes that are sus­pected to be a re­sult of dis­tracted driv­ing are clas­si­fied as fail­ure to pay full time and at­ten­tion.

Dean said there has been an in­crease in crashes where the con­tribut­ing fac­tor is dis­tracted driv­ing, but noted this is only crashes that re­quire re­ports, not just traf­fic in­frac­tions.

“Be­cause all vi­o­la­tions don’t re­sult in a crash,” Payne said. He said the is­sue of dis­tracted driv­ing would come up a lot more if small vi­o­la­tions and all fender-ben­ders were sub­mit­ted into the Au­to­mated Crash Re­port­ing Sys­tem.

Iden­ti­fy­ing Dunkirk, Prince Fred­er­ick and Lusby as the three main ar­eas for ac­ci­dents be­cause of traf­fic lights and traf­fic vol­ume, Dean said there haven’t been as many ma­jor crashes at in­ter­sec­tions due to red light run­ning be­cause of the tim­ing of lights.

The sher­iff’s of­fice iden­ti­fied five red light inter- sec­tions along Route 4 as prob­lem­atic ar­eas. These in­ter­sec­tions — which Payne said are high-con­cen­trated ar­eas — are at Rousby Hall Road, Route 231, Dares Beach Road, Stoak­ley Road and Ward Road.

“In 2014, we had 40 com­bined ac­ci­dents at those in­ter­sec­tions. In 2015, we had 41. I don’t have the [com­plete] 2016 num­bers, but from Jan­uary to Oc­to­ber we had 33” crashes at those inter- sec­tion, Payne said.

The sher­iff’s of­fice han­dled 43 more crashes last year than 2015, which Payne said is pos­si­bly a re­sult of the 2016 win­ter weather. He said the big- gest num­ber the sher­iff’s of­fice mon­i­tors is the fa- tal­ity sta­tis­tics.

Payne said the fa­tal­ity num­bers can be tricky, ex­plain­ing that if there are mul­ti­ple peo­ple in a ve­hi­cle dur­ing a fa­tal crash and more than one per­son dies, then this is counted as more than one fa­tal­ity. He also gave an ex­am­ple where an el­der- ly per­son driv­ing had a med­i­cal is­sue and struck an­other car, re­sult­ing in a fa­tal­ity.

“That’s not nec­es­sar- ily en­gi­neer­ing or bad driv­ing or fail­ure to pay [full time and at­ten­tion]. That’s just a med­i­cal is­sue from an older per- son,” said Payne.

The sher­iff’s of­fice em- ploys a num­ber of traf­fic safety ini­tia­tives to at- tempt to slow ve­hi­cles down and en­sure all laws are fol­lowed in in­ter­sec- tions. Some ex­am­ples of these are sat­u­ra­tion pa­trols, so­bri­ety check­points, seat belt checks and school bus en­force­ment. Dean also manag- es var­i­ous safety ini­tia­tive grants at the sher­iff’s of- fice.

One of the newer traf- fic safety ini­tia­tives used by the sher­iff’s of­fice is por­ta­ble speed cam­eras in school zones. Payne in­di­cated that driver be­hav­ior has changed and there has been a 75 to 80 per­cent re­duc­tion of speed­ing in those ar­eas.

“One thing I would like to get out there is that those are in ef­fect when­ever they’re signed, so they’re in ef­fect in the sum­mer time, too, when school is not of­fi­cially open,” Payne clar­i­fied. “Peo­ple get con­fused be­cause they think that the school zones are only when school’s open or chil­dren are present. But re­ally those speed lim­its are in ef­fect for when­ever they’re signed.”

So­bri­ety check­points are also mo­bile now, mean­ing they can be moved to mul­ti­ple loca- tions in a short amount of time. With the ad­di­tion of civil­ian sup­port staff, check­points can be set up and op­er­a­tional with cones, lights and flares in less than 15 min­utes, Dean ex­plained.

“An­other thing we’re go­ing to try to im­ple­ment this year is the use of our BMS boards — you know, the sign boards. We don’t re­ally like to go out with the mind­set of en­force­ment, writ­ing tick­ets and lock­ing peo­ple up, but pos­i­tive ed­u­ca­tion works just as well,” said Dean.

Payne said the sher­iff’s of­fice uses ev­ery op­por- tu­nity pos­si­ble to ed­u­cate the pub­lic on safe driv- ing, adding that Sher­iff Mike Evans (R) takes a strong stance on keep­ing Calvert road­ways safe. ‘It’s not a fail­ure if you don’t ar­rest some­body’

While au­thor­i­ties in St. Mary’s County han­dled more crashes war­rant­ing a re­port in 2016 than the pre­vi­ous year, there was a de­crease in the num­ber of fa­tal­i­ties on the roads, data shows.

There were 1,659 crashes in St. Mary’s last year re­quir­ing re­ports, com- pared to 1,371 crashes in 2015. This is the high­est num­ber of re­ported crashes in the last five years. While the low- est amount of re­ported crashes in the last five years is 1,369 in 2014, the sta­tis­tics show, the fiveyear av­er­age is 1,459.

Capt. Steven Hall, com- mander of the St. Mary’s Sher­iff’s Of­fice’s pa­trol unit, con­firmed there were nine fa­tal­i­ties last year, a de­crease of three, ac­cord­ing to the fig­ures. The five-year av­er­age for road­way fa­tal­i­ties is 10 with the low­est num­ber in the last five years be­ing six fa­tal­i­ties in 2013.

Hall said the sher­iff’s of­fice re­sponded to 3,867 crashes last year, most of which did not re­quire a re­port to be writ­ten.

“We have to re­spond re­gard­less of an acci- dent re­port,” Hall said, ex­plain­ing crashes must be sub­mit­ted into ACRS if there’s an in­jury, the ve­hi­cle is in­op­er­a­ble or the ve­hi­cle must be towed. “We re­spond to a lot of fender-ben­ders ... thou­sands. That’s very, very im­por­tant be­cause as far as man­power and re­sources are con­cerned, that’s a hell of a lot more ac­cu­rate than 1,000” acci- dents.

The sher­iff’s of­fice saw the high­est num­ber of crashes for the year in Novem­ber. Hall said this is due to a num­ber of fac- tors, in­clud­ing the sea- sonal switch back from Day­light Sav­ing Time, deer-re­lated crashes, im­paired driv­ing and in­clement weather.

In­di­cat­ing the county’s roads are well-main­tained by the Mary­land State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion, Hall said the road­ways are safe, but crash like­li­hood de­pends on lo­ca­tion.

“Peo­ple who have to travel in and around the base around rush hour are go­ing to have a dif­fer- ent opin­ion of safety. The vast ma­jor­ity of peo­ple do abide by the law. They don’t drive dis­tracted, drive within the speed limit, and if the condi- tions are not suit­able for driv­ing, most of our driv­ers abide by the rules of the road and laws of the land,” Hall said. He be­lieves this is the rea­son why the county’s road­ways are safe.

“There are peo­ple, how- ever, that will drive dis­tracted, and I think right now dis­tracted driv­ing is prob­a­bly the No. 1 cause for con­cern in the area,” con­tin­ued Hall, ex­plain­ing the ev­i­dence is clar- ified in the sher­iff’s of- fice’s traf­fic anal­y­sis data. “Some­times these peo­ple will sac­ri­fice safety for the con­ve­nience of be­ing able to talk on the phone or be dis­tracted in such a way that will pre­vent them from be­ing a safe driver.”

Hall said it’s not dif­fi­cult to de­ter­mine the cause of re­cur­ring bumperto-bumper ac­ci­dents in highly con­gested ar­eas like Route 235 and the busi­ness cor­ri­dor, as the speed lim­its and vol­ume of cars don’t al­low fast driv­ing.

When crash in­ves­tiga- tions are con­ducted in St. Mary’s, Hall said of­fi­cers are look­ing for any ev­i­dence that shows dis­tract- ed driv­ing, like a phone in the floor­board fol­low­ing a rear-end ac­ci­dent.

Cpl. Brian Con­nelly, who fre­quently pa­trols St. Mar y’s road­ways, said he nor­mally doesn’t ob­serve ag­gres­sive driv­ing, but sees more driv­ers speed­ing around rush hour.

Some of the more crash­prone in­ter­sec­tions in the county, ranked by the worst, are Mi­ra­mar Way and Town Creek Drive, Three Notch Road and Chan­cel­lor’s Run Road, Three Notch Road and First Colony Boulevard and St. An­drew’s Church Road and Patux­ent Beach Road, which is routes 4 and 235.

Hall said the county does not have any speed cam­eras or red light cam- eras, al­though Sher­iff Tim Cameron (R) is in fa- vor of red light cam­eras, es­pe­cially in school zone ar­eas and con­struc­tion ar­eas.

Al­though the sher­iff’s of­fice has seen an in­crease in crashes, crime is slightly down, Hall said.

He cred­ited the re­duc- tion in crime to the use of the Data-Driven Approaches to Crime and Traf­fic Safety model, which in­te­grates lo­ca­tion-based traf­fic crashes, crime, calls for ser­vice and en­force­ment data to es­tab­lish ef­fec­tive and ef­fi­cient meth­ods for de­ploy­ing law en­force­ment re­sources, as the ar­eas with the most crashes are usu­ally the same ar­eas with the most crime. Ac­cord­ing to the model, if law en­force­ment does vis­i­ble traf­fic en­force­ment in these ar­eas, it well help the crash- and traf­fic-re­lated com­plaints, as well as re­duce crimes.

Along with us­ing high­way safety grant funds, the sher­iff’s of­fice par­tic­i­pates in a num­ber of traf­fic safety ini­tia­tives like Smooth Operator, dis­tracted driv­ing ini­tia­tives, Click It Or Ticket, red-light en­force­ment on a min­i­mum of four check­points a year and a min­i­mum of eight sat­u­ra­tion pa­trols, which are com­monly used dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son, the su­per bowl and St. Pa­trick’s Day.

“A lot of peo­ple have dif­fer­ent feel­ings about the suc­cess of so­bri­ety check­points, but I’ll tell you right now — whether you get any­body driv­ing im­paired or not — the word is out there, and God only knows what you pre­vented by get­ting the word out there,” Hall ex­plained. “Just as an ex­am­ple, the ef­fort and man­power to put [a so­bri­ety check­point] to­gether is pretty in­tense. Do you call it a suc­cess if you don’t have any­body ar­rested and/or jailed?”

An­swer­ing his own ques­tion, Hall said he con­sid­ers it a suc­cess if there are no fa­tal­i­ties or crashes dur­ing the time that spe­cific en­force­ment

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW CEPHAS

Cpl. Kris Syvert­sen of the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice’s Traf­fic Op­er­a­tion Unit in the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Divi­sion stands be­side his marked pa­trol mo­tor­cy­cle. Be­side his leg is a sticker in mem­ory of Sgt. Ti­mothy Mi­nor who died Feb. 12, 1996, af­ter a ve­hi­cle pulled in front of his mo­tor­cy­cle while he was trav­el­ing on Route 257 in New­burg as he was re­spond­ing to a call near Cobb Is­land. The sticker de­picts an al­ter­nate ver­sion of the po­lice mo­tor of­fi­cers’ wings with Mi­nor’s of­fi­cer iden­ti­fi­ca­tion num­ber, 109, go­ing through it.

STAFF PHOTO BY AN­DREW CEPHAS

Calvert County Sher­iff’s Of­fice deputies and mem­bers of the Prince Fred­er­ick Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment re­spond to a Dec. 13 ac­ci­dent on Main Street in Prince Fred­er­ick.

Cpl. Kris Syvert­sen of the Charles County Sher­iff’s Of­fice’s Traf­fic Op­er­a­tion Unit in the Spe­cial Op­er­a­tions Divi­sion sits on his marked pa­trol mo­tor­cy­cle. The traf­fic op­er­a­tion unit uses the mo­tor­cy­cles to do more ef­fi­cient pa­trols on the county’s road­ways.

Cpl. Brian Con­nelly of the St. Mary’s County Sher­iff’s Of­fice points his radar gun at traf­fic in an at­tempt to curb ag­gres­sive driv­ing.

Cpl. Brian Con­nelly of the St. Mary’s County Sher­iff’s Of­fice points his radar gun at in­com­ing ve­hi­cles in an at­tempt to curb ag­gres­sive driv­ing.

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