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Editorial: Spike in Fatal Crashes Due to Bad Drivers and Deadly Decisions

  • A piece of hubcap sits on the side of the road in the aftermath of an accident involving a car and a school bus on Monday morning in Newport, N.H., Oct. 15, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to August Frank

Published: 1/5/2019 10:10:17 PM
Modified: 1/5/2019 10:10:19 PM

The alarming spike in traffic deaths that New Hampshire experienced last year — a 46 percent increase — should prompt motorists to reflect that every time they get behind the wheel of an automobile, they need to drive as though their lives, and the lives of others, depended on it. Because they do.

Staff writer Jordan Cuddemi reported last month that through Dec. 20, 142 people died in 128 crashes during 2018 in New Hampshire, compared with 97 fatalities in 93 accidents the previous year. Vehicle fatalities in both Grafton and Sullivan counties more than doubled from 2017 to 2018.

“People are dying because of bad decisions,” New Hampshire State Police Capt. William Haynes told Cuddemi. And while traffic fatalities in Vermont decreased by about 5 percent in 2018, state troopers are said to have noticed an uptick in high-speed driving on the interstates in the past couple of years. Just last week, they pulled over a driver in Thetford who allegedly was traveling at 103 mph on Interstate 91 south while passing several vehicles.

Anyone who drives regularly during rush hour on Interstate 89 southbound from Vermont to the Exit 18 off-ramp for Route 120 and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center can attest to witnessing daily a wide variety of bad judgment exercised by drivers who are in way too much of a hurry.

The litany of sins begins, but by no means ends, with excessive speed, often combined with tailgating. It appears that 80 mph is the new normal for many drivers, who also do not deign to use their signal lights when changing lanes at high speed. And then there are distractions. Electronic devices are not the only culprits here: Low-tech distractions such as animated, hand-waving conversation with a passenger, breakfast-sandwich eating and makeup application can be seen on a semi-regular basis.

In recent years, driving habits in the Upper Valley seem also to have assumed an aggressive character once associated mostly with motorists from neighboring states to the south (that was back when we favored a wall on our southern borders). Too often, a particularly dangerous maneuver is accompanied by horn blowing, finger pointing or worse.

And this sort of recklessness does not even speak to the reason so many drivers come to grief: impairment by drugs and alcohol. Even after years of education campaigns promoting the use of designated drivers, too many people still haven’t gotten the message.

A couple of years ago, Cuddemi wrote about an increase in another manifestation of dangerous driving: motorists blowing by school buses that are stopped and have their red lights activated. The number of so-called “red-light runners” has increased significantly in the past few years through haste and inattention, one transportation official told Cuddemi. That waiting a few seconds for children to safely board a bus is experienced as an intolerable burden by some drivers suggests strongly that something is very wrong in modern American life.

Haynes, who commands New Hampshire’s Highway Safety Bureau, reports that a review of last year’s fatal crashes indicates that only 9 percent of deaths were attributable to circumstances beyond the drivers’ control, such as medical emergencies, mechanical malfunctions or animals entering the roadway. “Ninety-one percent of those deaths are from people making a wrong or poor decision,” he said.

That suggests that there is ample room for improvement in 2019. So pay attention, banish distractions, obey the speed limit, don’t drink and drive, slow down when road conditions deteriorate, yield to other vehicles and watch out for pedestrians, bicyclists and animals in the road. And consider that even if your reaction time is lightning quick, the people with whom you are sharing the road might be a split second — or a couple of seconds — slower.

Unlike many problems, traffic safety is one amenable to improvement through the efforts of every one of us in the course of daily life.

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