Courts & Corrections

Police increase patrols, stress safety after rash of fatal crashes

Public Safety Commissioner Thomas D. Anderson speaks at a news conference Tuesday about a recent spate of traffic deaths. Photo by Cyrus Ready-Campbell/VTDigger

Police plan to put more cruisers on the roads after a recent cluster of fatal car crashes throughout Vermont.

Seven people in four car crashes died Sunday and Monday, according to the Vermont State Police.

At a news conference Tuesday state officials urged Vermonters to drive safely. Thomas Anderson, commissioner of the Department of Public Safety, said enforcement will be increased.

“We’ll do our part,” Anderson said. “We will have robust enforcement of the motor vehicle laws that we’ve got, and we will have increased visibility, starting today.”

But, Anderson said, the choices the driving public makes have the strongest effect on fatality rates.

“Ultimately, this is a responsibility of every driver that’s out there to drive responsibly, to slow down, don’t text, and put your seat belt on,” he said.

This cluster of deaths represents well above 10 percent of the annual average over the past decade. It also adds to an upward trend in traffic fatalities that began in 2015, both in Vermont and nationally.

Officials also stressed the importance of using seat belts. Of the seven people who died Sunday and Monday, six were not wearing seat belts, police said.

An additional fatality happened Friday in South Royalton where a passenger died.

The Vermont State Police report for Monday’s deadly crash in Bridport shows that all four people who died were not wearing seat belts. Police said the Volkswagen Beetle crossed the centerline and collided head-on with a pickup truck.

In Derby, a man driving a 1984 Toyota station wagon died Monday afternoon after he pulled out in front of a dump truck and got broadsided. The police report said the dump truck had the right of way. Police said the deceased driver was wearing a seat belt.

Early Monday morning, a South Burlington man in a delivery van died when he drove off I-89 near Milton and hit a tree.

Sunday night a man lost control of his SUV on I-91 near Springfield, struck a tree, and rolled the vehicle multiple times.

In both interstate accidents, the driver was not wearing a seat belt.

Anderson said wearing a seat belt decreases the risk of dying in a crash by 50 to 70 percent.

Colchester Police Chief Jennifer Morrison, president of the Vermont Association of Chiefs of Police, agreed with the emphasis Anderson placed on drivers’ decisions.

“In the long run, this is certainly a law enforcement concern,” she said, “but it is really and truly a community responsibility.”

Morrison said “conversations need to start around the kitchen table and in the classroom” about the dangers of bad driver behavior.

“We can’t enforce our way out of this issue,” she said.

Besides not wearing seat belts, Morrison said driving while distracted by technology is one of the biggest threats on the road. Anderson called distractions from using smartphones and other technology “a huge problem.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that the percentage of drivers nationwide visibly using handheld devices increased 267 percent between 2009 and 2015.

Anderson and Morrison addressed whether Vermont should introduce a primary seat belt law, which would make not wearing a seat belt an offense for which drivers could be pulled over.

Morrison said the association of police chiefs doesn’t have a “formal position” on such a law, but that members will discuss it soon. She said a balance has to be maintained between respecting civil liberties and keeping people safe.

A primary seat belt law could be “another tool in the toolbox,” Anderson said, but he doubts “it’s going to be the silver bullet that’s all of a sudden going to get people buckling up.”

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  • Gary Murdock

    I welcome the increased and robust enforcement, it’s getting bad on the roads. I live in the area of the crash on 22A, and I wont even travel that road on weekends…it’s like a Mad Max movie when the weekend traffic is on that road. I hope they include tailgaters when they increase enforcement…pull over every one you see and ticket them to the hilt. And I’ll save you texting millennials the time of telling me that I must be a pokey on the road…I’m not.

    • Lester French

      Tailgating is definitely an issue and I see many police setting an example by riding the bumper of someone in front.

      • SteveShonokins

        On Aug. 9 morning, a VSP vehicle was coming toward the Addison fishing area on Route 125 driving over the center line, then a few miles down the road, another state police SUV was turning into the parking lot at Pratt’s Store in Bridport without signaling. These were likely the new “safety patrols.”

        • Jon Corrigan

          Border Patrol vehicles driving over the center line on Rte 105 is routine, in my experience. Two days ago a Sheriff’s patrol car was so close to my bumper I couldn’t even see it in the rear view mirror.

  • Pete Novick

    “Officials also stressed the importance of using seat belts. Of the seven people who died Sunday and Monday, six were not wearing seat belts, police said.”

    Thank you.

    As a public service, every newspaper story reporting a fatal traffic accident ought to include a statement on whether or not the occupants were wearing seat belts. All too often, this important fact is not reported, perhaps out of respect to the family of the deceased, or for other reasons.

    I think the police should make that fact known to the press when requested.

    The next time you find yourself waiting for the crosswalk light, try counting the number of drivers passing you who are not wearing seat belts. Three in ten is not unusual.

  • SteveShonokins

    Seven motor vehicle deaths and all vtdigger does is cover a press conference on it? Four people died in the Bridport crash. No details?

  • Rich Lachapelle

    This cluster of highway deaths was a statistical anomaly and would not have been treated as an “epidemic” if not for the unbelted quadruple-fatal in Bridport.
    When we have a cluster of heroin/opioid overdose deaths, the public outcry is for more treatment and education and we get reminded that “we cant arrest our way out of a drug problem”. Many of the same folks who advocate on behalf of the junkies are the biggest proponents of a nanny-state primary seat belt law, essentially attempting to solve the problem using law ENFORCEMENT. Our public safety officials have driven home a very adequate message over the past decades about the importance of using seat belts. Those adults lacking a common sense of self preservation or just in denial of the laws of physics should be free to ride unbelted and allow Darwinian evolution to run it’s course. Society is not well served by authoritarian safety zealots who place government in the role of nanny, attempting to protect people from themselves. Perhaps if the media would abandon their hypersensitivity and show color graphics of horrific wrecks involving unrestrained occupants, that would serve as a source of education. Say a prayer for those affected and move on.

  • Steve Baker

    I’m glad they’re going to step up patrols. But I wonder why at one point did they “step down” their patrols ?

  • SteveShonokins

    Statewide news, yes. Outside of the Free Press, which charges a subscription fee, who else promotes themselves as offering that?