A report last week showed a spike in traffic fatalities in April, even as the pandemic forced most commuters to stay home.
Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver said investigators believe speed or distracted driving were involved in most of the crashes that killed 28 people in April, one more than those who died on the roads in April 2019. Although the monthly death toll went up by only one, our roads were twice as deadly in light of traffic decreasing by half.
With the state of emergency declared by the governor on March 10, most businesses shut down quickly, and traffic volume plummeted. Anyone pulling onto a major highway saw much less traffic. They also saw cars flying by, often well above the speed limit.
Even so, the number of arrests by local and state police also fell dramatically, probably because police and court officers were reluctant to deal with people up close during the pandemic. According to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, citations for all reasons, including civil, criminal, arrest and warnings, dropped in both March and April compared to last year. In April, police wrote 4,385 citations -- less than one-tenth the 47,211 written in April 2019.
Traffic enforcement isn’t all about tickets. The mere presence of police cars usually slows drivers, forcing them to pay attention.
So why did it take until April 25 for state police to implement a “speed reduction initiative?" According to spokesman David Procopio, troopers wrote 271 speeding citations within the first week or so of the program.
It appears it took more than a month for state police brass to recognize there were a lot of speeders and preoccupied drivers on the roads.
No one is suggesting troopers were idle during this difficult time. But when state officials release information pointing to a deadly situation on our highways, it calls for a crackdown, one that could have taken place much sooner.