November 25, 2015

WTOP: Distractions lead to increased number of vehicle collisions

The number of crashes on area roadways goes up this time of year, but not for the reasons you might think.

Montgomery County Police Chief Tom Manger said the last quarter of the year sees a spike in collisions, but the crashes aren’t a result of fewer daylight hours.

“They’re caused by drivers — and pedestrians — not paying attention to what they should be doing,” Manger says.

Typically, the last quarter of the year will see an increase of collisions, as many as 135 on average.

At a news conference kicking off holiday traffic enforcement, Manger said drivers need to put down the handheld devices and eliminate anything that might distract them.

“They need to be paying full-time attention to their driving,” Manger said.

He said pedestrians need to take care, too: of the 11 pedestrian fatalities so far this year, Manger says nine were a result of pedestrian behavior, including crossing outside of crosswalks.

In a safety campaign dubbed “Be safe, Be Seen, Be Responsible,” public safety officials said everyone using the roadways — drivers, cyclists and pedestrians — can increase safety and decrease risk.

Darryl Drobnich, chairman of the county’s Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee, said it’s important for pedestrians and cyclists to check in with drivers, to make sure they’ve been seen before crossing.

“Don’t trust the other guy to do the right thing,” Drobnich said. “Be ready to yield the right of way.”

Police are engaged in increased enforcement efforts throughout the holiday season, including targeting underage drinking.

Capt. Tom Didone urged parents to avoid hosting underage drinking parties and said 10 additional officers “will be out aggressively enforcing the alcohol laws.”

Didone said when he pulls people over, they often ask why police don’t give warnings instead of tickets.

“Warnings don’t work,” he said. “We want to get people home safe.”

So far this year, there have been 33 collisions involving 34 fatalities.

Nationally, the Governor’s Highway Safety Association says there’s been an 8 percent increase in fatal crashes in the first half of 2015.

The GHSA report cites drunk driving, lack of seat belt use and speeding as factors in the increase.

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