Permanent panel to work on highway safety issues suggested by Harford task force

Harford County needs a permanent commission to address highway safety concerns, even though the number of crashes and injuries have largely been dropping in recent years, according to an interim report of the county's traffic safety task force.

Sheriff Jesse Bane, head of the task force designated last year to study crashes, presented the report to the Harford County Council Tuesday.

In June, when the final report is presented, the task force will "probably" recommend a long-term commission so the county does not need to re-convene every few years to study traffic safety, Bane said.

"Traffic is a problem and traffic is a situation that is always going to be on the front burner in Harford County," Bane told the council.

The interim report did not yet include numbers from 2012, when at least 31 people died in traffic accidents on Harford roads.

Injuries in crashes fell from 2,340 in 2002 to 1,795 in 2011, according to the report. Fatalities were highest in 2002 and 2003, at 34 and 35, respectively, and have since stayed in the low 20s, on average. The most recent year covered in the report, 2011, had 24 fatalities.

Bane noted 2011 has not been the highest year, although 2002 and 2003 "were really tragic years for Harford County, in terms of people killed on our roadways."

The county ranked fourth in the state for fatalities in 2012 through November, he said.

Most serious injuries and fatalities between 2007 and 2011 were driven by three factors: not wearing a seat belt, speeding and being impaired by alcohol or drugs.

Forty percent of the serious injuries or deaths in that five-year period, not including motorcycle-related or pedestrian fatalities, involved speeding, impairment or lack of belt use.

Crash "hot spots" included the Route 543 and Route 22 area in the Northern Precinct east of Bel Air, Route 152 and Route 1 in Fallston and Route 22 and Beards Hill Road in Aberdeen.

The largest hot spots were Route 152 near I-95 in the Joppa area and Route 24 near I-95 in the Bel Air area.

Bane said much of the task force's work will overlap with the state's Strategic Highway Safety Plan for 2011 to 2015, released in August 2011.

"A lot of our work is going to parallel the work that they have done," he said. "Fortunately, we don't have to reinvent the wheel."

Councilman Chad Shrodes, who was key in helping to get the task force started, thanked the sheriff for his work.

"These numbers and statistics are people," he said of the report. "Lives are precious."

"I know this is going to go a long way," Shrodes said. "We are going to curb this. We have one heck of a team."

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