In late March of this year, a woman driving a 2010 Honda at a high rate of speed in Watertown near Pleasant and Bridge Street lost her life in a horrific accident. According to police investigators who surveyed the debris strewn scene, the woman was traveling at an excessive speed when she ran into a car in front of her that caused her car to flip on its side and into the opposite lane of traffic where the car had a head-on collision with another vehicle. The four occupants of the car that had been hit head-on were taken to a nearby hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
Massachusetts drivers over the past decade and likely before then have consistently ranked among the worst users of seat belts in the nation. All states with the exception of New Hampshire that only requires seat belt use if under 18 oblige all drivers and occupants to wear a seat belt. The states with the highest usage rates are California and Georgia at 98%.
Distracted driving is now as prominent a safety issue as drunk or impaired driving. While intense public awareness campaigns, stricter penalties, and more attention by law enforcement has made a dent in drunk driving accidents and fatalities, the same cannot yet be said for distracted driving. In a minor incident on the Mass. Turnpike in early April, a state trooper was rear-ended by a motorist who was apparently distracted by his GPS device. Fortunately, the officer only suffered minor injuries. This mishap only underscores the risk that distracted driving poses. If a police officer can be the victim of distracted driving, then anyone else certainly can.
In early March 2019, a 62-year old Worcester man was struck and killed while crossing the street at St. Nicholas Avenue around 6:00 am. The driver was a 26-year old male from Webster who was proceeding south on St. Nicholas and hit the man who was crossing from the driver’s left.
Traffic deaths reached 40,000 for the third year in a row in 2018 according to the National Safety Council, reversing a downward trend that saw fatalities dip below that number for several years in prior years. There was an all-time low in 2014 when 32,744 people lost their lives on the roadways. The highest recorded total was in 1972 when 55,600 were killed in car accidents. Serious injuries sustained in car accidents remained high at 4.5 million last year.
In past years when traffic fatalities were substantially high, safety advocates and groups like Mothers Against Drunk Drivers lobbied hard for stricter penalties and enforcement of traffic laws. For a time following the oil crisis in the mid-1970s when speed limits were lowered, highway deaths dipped a bit before creeping up again when too many complaints about the slower limits forced lawmakers to raise speeds.
During our long winters, a common sight is that of snowplows on our highways, clearing off the snow usually during the late night or early morning hours to prepare for the morning commute. Plows can also be seen in parking lots and on suburban streets in the twilight or evening. These vehicles are large and of necessity slow-moving, and can present a hazard to other motorists wherever they operate.
If you live in rural areas, or even in many suburbs, the risk of encountering a deer or other large animal like a moose suddenly in your headlights is very real. In Massachusetts, the chances are 1 in 469 that you will come upon a deer on a suburban or rural roadway. According to the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife, there are between 7,000 and 10,000 car accidents in our state each year involving deer, though it is rare for anyone to be killed in such accidents. There is no reporting requirement if you do have a deer accident so exact numbers are unavailable.
There are numerous hazards on roadways that motorists need to be cautious of and to take reasonable and commonsense steps to avoid by driving defensively. For instance, be aware of weather conditions to avoid losing control on a slippery surface, do not tailgate, share the road with bicyclists, stop for pedestrians, and be wary of slow-moving vehicles or malfunctioning traffic signals. But there are hazards that you cannot plan for such as debris in the roadway.
Storms can be dangerous for driving and motorists are often warned to either be especially cautious or to avoid driving at all in severe weather. Most accidents in a storm occur because of visibility problems, travelling too fast for conditions or losing control. For an unfortunate Plympton man, a storm cost him his life when a large tree fell and crushed his truck on his way home.
It seems that most cities and towns of significant size have problem streets or intersections where more accidents occur than in other parts of the community. In Peabody, Massachusetts, car accidents have been occurring at a level that has concerned city officials at the intersection of Wilson Square and Tremont Street. In a 4-year stretch between 2012 and 2016, 100 accidents occurred in Wilson Square alone. A traffic study conducted by WorldTech found that cars traveling through this intersection were prone to accidents on Central Street. About 27,000 cars can be expected on Central Street each day!