A new Harford County task force is set to take on the thorny issue of traffic safety and how to prevent what safety officials have called a disturbingly high number of traffic fatalities.
At its meeting Tuesday, the Harford County Council unanimously passed a resolution creating a traffic safety task force, to be led by Harford County Sheriff Jesse Bane and Maryland State Police Lt. Charles "Chuck" Moore, commander of the Bel Air Barrack.
Health department director Susan Kelly, public works director Bob Cooper and Larry Richardson, representing insurance companies, would also be on the task force. Cooper is retiring at the end of June.
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"I am not aware that he is staying on in any capacity with Harford County Government following his official retirement date," county spokesman Bob Thomas wrote in an e-mail Wednesday.
Councilman Chad Shrodes, who introduced the resolution, said the county had 23 fatal crashes last year, with about half in his district of northern Harford County, according to a Baltimore Sun article.
"I know it was a rough year throughout the year, but I remember receiving this and I immediately called Sheriff Jesse Bane and said, 'We have to do something about it,'" he said.
"This is to try to hit this head on so we can really make a stand here and try to improve our roads for all motorists," he said.
Bane said Shrodes has been "relentless" in moving this task force forward, and the county has done an "abysmal" job dealing with the fatality rate.
"It's not the responsibility of law enforcement alone to deal with this issue," Bane said.
Harford had the fifth highest fatality rate in the state last year. Bane said the county ranks fourth in the state so far this year and is on track to see the fatality rate continue to rise.
"It's increasing in dramatic proportions to the point that it's time Harford County looks at this issue as seriously as it looks at crime," he said.
Bane said it is not clear why many of the deaths are in the northern part of the county.
He said some of the victims are texting or on cell phones, while others cross over the center line or have other reasons for crashing.
"There doesn't seem to be any consistency or one factor," he said.
Bane said the infrastructure is not able to support all the traffic, and people in the northern end may believe they are in "wide open spaces." Drivers are also more distracted than ever before, he said.
"It's a puzzle that we haven't solved yet as to why the northern end of the county seems to be harder hit," he said.
Moore said the task force hopes to concentrate more officers in high-crash areas, and noted the spike in crashes involving people ages 16 to 26 is "enormous."
"It's like half of the crashes in our database now," he said, adding perhaps students could talk to other students about the problem.
Kelly said public health is about preventing injury and illness, and one of the country's top public health improvements has been reducing traffic crashes.
She said despite these improvements, traffic fatalities are still responsible for one in three deaths among teenagers in America.