Authorities work to keep roadways safe
Distracted driving remains one of biggest causes of accidents in Southern Maryland
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
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.
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.