BURLINGTON -- Vermont health and safety officials on Tuesday urged motorists to drive within the speed limit, wear seatbelts and put cellphones away after a sharp increase in fatal crashes on the state’s roads this year.
So far 75 people have died this year, compared to 51 last year and 60 in 2010.
"I’m asking Vermonters to do their part this season to make Vermont roads safer: Slow down, buckle up, make sure that the kids are safely secured, pay attention to the road, not your phone, don’t drink ... or take drugs while driving," said Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen at a news conference at the emergency department at Fletcher Allen Health Care.
The tragedy is that most of the fatalities were preventable, Chen said.
Of the 75 deaths, 33 people were not properly restrained, including 31 who weren’t wearing seatbelts, and 45 were impaired by drugs or alcohol, officials said. One-third of the fatalities involved excessive speed.
Ted Minall, chief of the Vermont Governor’s Highway Safety Program, thanked the 85 percent of Vermonters who wear seatbelts, compared to 86 percent nationally, and appealed to the other 15 percent to buckle up.
"You can’t imagine the amount of anguish and tragedy and pain that you’re inflicting on your family by not coming home safely after every trip," he said.
The goal is to continue reducing the number of traffic deaths, ultimately down to zero from these preventable causes, Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said.
Officials acknowledged that last year’s low number could be an anomaly, perhaps in part because roads were damaged and fewer people were driving after the remnants of Hurricane Irene. Flynn and Chen also said they would support a discussion of banning cellphone use by drivers in Vermont to prevent accidents by distracted operators. Texting behind the wheel is already prohibited.