BRATTLEBORO >> A new study says Brattleboro had the second fewest traffic fatalities in Vermont in 2014.
"There might be this perception that Brattleboro is dangerous for collisions," said Brattleboro Police Capt. Mark Carignan. "I've always felt we had a relatively safe community when it comes to collisions involving injury."
Looking at the most current data available from the United States Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, ConsumerAffairs found there were 6.1 million police-reported crashes in the U.S. in 2014; 32,675 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes while 2.3 million were injured. Alcohol-related fatalities accounted for 31 percent of that total, 28 percent were caused by speeding and 10 percent involved distracted drivers.
Brattleboro statistics compiled are available at consumeraffairs.com/insurance/car.html#safest-drivers-overall-vt-brattleboro. But looking at the page, some might wonder how the group came up with 17 total deaths related to driving.
"To create an even-playing field, we used an average of 100,000 people per community. This was the only way we could compare small and large communities and have correct rankings," said Kay Evans, of ConsumerAffairs. "As far as exact numbers, it looks like Brattleboro has a population of 11,737 and had two speeding fatalities."
The Nevada-based for-profit consumer advocacy organization provides ratings and has received some criticism for its practices and transparency.
Brattleboro Police Department tends to see between 600 and 700 collisions annually. In 2015, there were 641.
Those numbers are incidents in which the department handled. There were more if crashes on Interstate 91 were counted but the Vermont State Police typically responds to those.
Brattleboro came in just behind South Burlington, according to ConsumerAffairs. Following were Colchester, Milton, Springfield, Barre, Manchester, Richmond, Bennington and Hardwick. Besides Bennington and Richmond where driving under the influence played a factor in some way, Springfield's statistic included distracted driving but all the others only involved speeding.
Brattleboro having the state's second lowest rate for fatal collisions, Carignan said, "is fantastic."
According to the Vermont Agency of Transportation, the state had 57 traffic fatalities last year; 44 in 2014; 71 in 2013; 77 in 2012; 54 in 2011; 71 in 2010; 73 in 2009 and 73 in 2008. As of Feb. 2, there were four this year.
The Brattleboro Police Department engages in "aggressive" motor vehicle enforcement, said Carignan, especially when it comes to obeying yielding, speeding and stop signs. Officers enforce all the new cell phone and text messaging laws since violations around use of handheld devices were adopted by the state.
"We do traffic enforcement to modify driver behavior to reduce the number of collisions," Carignan said. "I think we have a good program here."
One program recently put in place involves directed patrols, he said. People will call the department, Selectboard or town manager's office complaining about speeding or other traffic violations. Officers are sent to check up on it.
The idea is to target a specific area of town rather than just going by information that is solely driven by data. It's a way to be more responsive to citizens' concerns too.
Canal Street and Putney Road are examples of places with "a tremendous amount" of collisions, Carignan said, so a lot of enforcement goes on there. A quieter place like Clark Street won't see as many cops unless a complaint comes in.
While having the I-91 bridge construction going on has definitely impacted traffic downtown due to the closures, Carignan could not say he's seen a significant increase in crashes. Exit 3 has been closed periodically through the process on Sundays or Mondays during a holiday week.
The department has also participated in the Vermont Governor's Highway Safety Program, in which the federal government gives individual states money then municipalities can apply for funds to increase traffic enforcement, going back 10 years or so.
"We get grants annually," Carignan said. "They give us money to spend on overtime and traffic enforcement to do that much more."
He coordinated that work before being bumped up to captain. Now, officer Adam Petlock does it.
The program assists with the department's setting up DUI checkpoints. But other agencies help out in the process. It's more complicated than it looks.
"You can't just set up a checkpoint," said Carignan, noting there are "very strict rules" and courts must approve their location.