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Maryland roadway deaths up 17 percent, more than double national rate

Roadway deaths rose 17 percent in Maryland last year, more than double the projected increase nationwide, officials said.

An estimated 38,000 people were killed and another 4.4 million were significantly injured in crashes across the U.S., according to Debbie Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. The 8 percent national increase was the largest in 50 years, she said.

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"We have more than 100 deaths a day on our roadways," Hersman said.

In Maryland, 520 people were killed in crashes last year, up from 443 in 2014, according to the state Department of Transportation. Bicycle fatalities doubled, from five to 10. Commercial vehicle-involved deaths were up 35 percent. Young driver-involved fatalities jumped more than one-quarter.

Gov. Larry Hogan referenced the deaths of Montgomery County Police Officer Noah Lotta and Maryland Transportation Authority maintenance technician Michael Pearce last year as examples of the tragic loss of life.

"Every death on our roads could have been prevented and each one is devastatingly heartbreaking for the families and loved ones left behind," the Republican governor said in a statement.

Maryland Deputy Transportation Secretary Jim Ports called the rise unacceptable and said it is a "call to action to strengthen and expand our efforts to save lives on our roads."

Hogan said his administration has introduced stricter ignition interlock laws to prevent drunk driving and invested nearly $2 billion in roadway projects statewide.

Officials announced at a news conference in Linthicum Heights Tuesday that the state has launched a "Strategic Highway Safety Plan" to combat crashes through better engineering, enforcement, education and emergency medical services.

Speed, alcohol and distraction are the top risks for drivers, Hersman said.

Wearing a seat belt can drastically cut the odds of a fatality. While 87 percent of people do it, the other 13 percent who don't make up half of driving fatalities, she said.

"Buckle up every time, put your phone away, don't drink and drive, be well-rested," she said. "If you're tired, pull over."

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