N.H. highway fatalities expected to be down: 2011 saw fewest deaths in 55 years
By SAMANTHA ALLEN
Tuesday, July 24, 2012
DOVER — After recording the lowest rate of highway motor vehicle fatalities in 2011 in the last 55 years, the Highway Safety Department with the New Hampshire State Police reports the 2012 calendar year is on track to see even lower rates.
The department also reported there were no fatalities due to vehicular accidents during the week of the Fourth of July holiday, which fell on a Wednesday this year. State police logged 65 accidents throughout the state with zero fatalities. Additionally, there were 2,755 cars stopped, 27 driving while intoxicated (DWI) arrests, 901 speeding summons issued, 1,539 warnings were given, 63 criminal arrests and 15 people were summonsed for driving after license suspension.
Highway Safety Coordinator Matthew Shapiro, who also works as a sergeant for the state police, said he attributes the declining rate of fatal accidents to new initiatives police have been pushing in the last 18 months regarding highway safety, including the posting of warnings on the sides of roads and an increase in highway enforcement.
In 2010, there were 120 accidents recorded on the highways of New Hampshire that resulted in 128 fatalities. In 2011, that number dropped to 84 accidents with 90 fatalities. As of July 9, 2012, there had only been 40 fatalities in the state, which Shapiro said is almost 7 percent less than the number recorded up to this time last year.
As for the deadly crashes though, Shapiro said officials still focus on "emphasis areas" to reduce fatalities even further.
"DWI, distraction and speed," Shapiro said. "75 percent of all data from accidents involves one of those three things. There's further evidence of that from 2009 to 2011, where alcohol and drug impairment was involved in 41 percent of all fatal accidents."
Other emphasis areas include occupant protection, such as measures concerning seat belts and child restraints, awareness of vulnerable drivers including motorcyclists who are out on the road more in the summer months, and crash locations.
Shapiro said, for example, Route 202 and Route 9 running between Hopkinton and Hillsborough for years made up what was known as "death alley," for having a high rate of vehicular crashes in that stretch. After the Department of Transportation put in rumble strips to help prevent lane crossover accidents, Shapiro said officials saw a decline in the location.
He said message boards on the side of roads that remind drivers to not drink and drive, to buckle up or to commute safely, seem to have a tremendous effect as well. He said police see a decrease in summons and violations issued when those signs are out, noting the use of the State Police aircraft unit has a similar effect. Police put up signs on the highways when an overhead plane tracks cars going far over the limit, Shapiro explained.
"It isn't about the 100 people who get stopped," he said. "It's the thousands who drive by and see the work being done and they know to keep an eye on their speed. Sobriety checkpoints are the same way."
Sobriety checkpoints serve to arrest impaired drivers by setting up blockades in the road to test drivers passing through for driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol. An upcoming change in DWI laws for the state of New Hampshire effective Jan. 1, 2013, however, will include all drivers operating under the influence of prescription drugs, synthetic marijuana and bath salts as well as over-the-counter substances.
"We've increased our drug recognition experts (DREs)," Shapiro said. "We've done specific DRE patrols, really trying to focus on the problem of prescription drug abuse in the last 10 years or so."
To create more of an presence, Shapiro added new technology allows officers to log their paperwork from anywhere with a wireless connection, even when they are stopped on the side of a road.
"Just in the ability to do that allows (troopers) to be on the road, where they're in a visible location," he explained. "At some level, that does some good," he said.
Shapiro said he attributes all of the hard work and patrol on the highways to the continual collaboration between state, county and local police, stating the state police have an "excellent partnership" with various stakeholders. He said he hopes to see his department's efforts continue to create safe highways for drivers.
"Our efforts are intended as an ongoing campaign to save lives."
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