Thursday July 11, 2013

Just last week, Vermont’s transportation and public safety agencies announced an alliance to promote safer driving on the state’s roads. Officials said they are renewing their emphasis of cracking down on impaired and distracted driving, increasing the use of seat belts and getting motorists to slow down.

"We can make a difference and save lives in Vermont, and we want to begin now and make it happen this summer," Deputy Transportation Secretary Sue Minter said in a statement.

Sadly, this safety effort comes too late for three separate crashes in the tri-state area over the past week that killed four people and seriously injured two others. Two people died on Sunday in a tractor-trailer crash in Greenfield, Mass., and another two were killed that same day when a car collided head on with a tree in Winchester, N.H. And right here in southern Vermont two people were seriously injured in a crash that occurred last Friday on I-91 North, not far from the Exit 3 on-ramp.

In following up on the July 7 fatalities the Reformer learned of a deadly trend that might surprise many Americans: Contrary to popular belief, winter is not the most dangerous time for driving -- summer is.

The sunny months of June, July and August account for one-third of all vehicle fatalities in the country. The weekend of July 4, specifically, is the worst time of year for driving. The daily average for car crash fatalities, according to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, is 114. This number skyrockets to an average of 148 deaths during July 4. Independence Day weekend is even deadlier than its close rival, New Year’s.

We must admit, these numbers surprised us a bit. Every winter we write at least two or three editorials advising people to drive carefully on the treacherous ice- and snow-covered roads, to slow down and keep more distance between them and the vehicle in front. But as Highway Safety Program Chief of Vermont, Ted Minall, told us, summertime has its own unique hazards.

For one thing, particularly here in Vermont, there are more tourists, so roads are busier. In addition, drivers tend to let their guard down during the sunny summer months. Longer daylight hours and the absence of icy roads mean more driving. It also means drivers feel safer, which decreases driver attention and increases levels of speeding. Increased levels of rain leave water on the road, which may cause drivers to lose control of their vehicle and hydroplane. The rain also erodes rock and dirt, destabilizing shoulders.

All of these hazards could be mitigated by using common sense and common courtesy, by taking personal responsibility and keeping your attention focused on the road. As Minall said, there is no room for multi-tasking while driving, because driving itself is multitasking.

Driver also need to stay alert, so don’t drive while drowsy. And for those who still don’t get the fact that alcohol and driving are a deadly combination, here’s a sobering statistic: 33 percent of people involved in deadly car crashes were suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Sometimes, however, even the most conscientious driver can have an accident, because let’s face it there are a lot of idiots on the road who don’t follow these basic safety tips. That’s why it’s important for everyone in the vehicle to wear a seatbelt. We have reported on countless car crashes over the years in which drivers and passengers escaped death or serious injury because they were safely fastened in.

So as we enjoy these dog days of summer, let’s not be too complacent about the huge responsibility that comes with getting behind the steering wheel. If we all take that responsibility more seriously we can all do our part to reduce those deadly statistics.