Maryland is on pace to reach 600 fatalities on state roads this year, a number not seen in nearly two decades, according to state transportation officials.
A state work group appointed by Gov. Wes Moore (D) is expected to make recommendations to the General Assembly later this year to improve highway safety, especially in work zones. Recommendations under consideration include high fines for speeding through highway construction sites and beefing up the number of speed cameras in work areas on state highways.
Lt. Gov. Aruna Miller (D), chair of the workgroup, said state roads are becoming increasingly dangerous to the roughly 1,000 highway workers in 300 construction sites this year. This year the state has reported 804 vehicle crashes in work zones, an average of about three per day.
“That means for the people who work at these sites, it’s not a matter of if they will see a crash on their job site.” said Miller, who is a traffic engineer and chairs the state’s Highway Work Zone Safety panel. “It’s a matter of when this staggeringly high number of crashes is an unacceptable reality for Maryland workers.”
The panel chaired by Miller was created earlier this year following a March crash in a work zone along I-695 in western Baltimore County that killed six workers.
“This was a preventable and horrible crash that has forever impacted the lives of loved ones and the transportation industry,” said Will Pines, Maryland State Highway Administration administrator. “Motorists need to change their behavior when behind the wheel and approaching and navigating work zones.”
In December 2022, Howard Bostick almost became part of the state’s highway fatality statistics.
Bostick, a member of a State Highway Administration crew that helps stranded motorists, was assisting with a rolled over vehicle on the southbound lanes of the Jones Falls Expressway in Baltimore when he was nearly hit by a vehicle traveling at a high rate of speed.
“All I saw was a van coming towards my vehicle hit my vehicle at 70 miles an hour,” said Bostick. “We had van parts come over top of my vehicle. It was hit so hard it moved at least 10 feet from its original position.
“The crash was scary,” he said. “My life flashed before my eyes.”
Miller and other transportation officials spoke about the high number of crashes — they rejected the use of the word “accident” — during a news conference rolling out a safety survey for Maryland motorists.
The online survey is available until October 12.
In the first 263 days of 2023, there have been 431 deaths on Maryland roads. In that period, the state recorded just 50 days so far without a death on a roadway, according to Maryland Motor Vehicle Administration Administrator Christine Nizer.
A year ago, the longest stretch of days without a recorded roadway fatality was five. This year, the state has not had more than three days without a death, she said.
“These are crashes,” said Nizer. “These are not accidents, these are crashes. These crashes result from choices that the driver has made, or failed to make, either before they got behind the wheel, or while they’re behind the wheel, which then leads to the injury or death of a fellow road user. If you’re speeding, if you choose to drive even though you’re impaired or if you failed to buckle your seatbelt — Those are deliberate actions that each driver takes.”
Currently, the number of fatalities on Maryland roads is 6% higher than at the same point a year ago.
Nizer said the state is on pace to reach at least 600 deaths by the end of the year.
“If that happens, it’ll be the first time since 2007 that we’ve reached that high of a fatality number. It’s certainly moving in the exact wrong direction from where we want to be,” said Nizer.
“We know those numbers are unacceptable,” she said. “If we don’t get drivers to change their behavior, we’re going to experience even more needless deaths on our roadways. That means paying attention and slowing down across the state, especially in our work zones.”