Fourteen people have died on Harford County roads thus far in 2019, one more than a year ago but below the county’s five-year average.
The holiday travel season, which began this week with Thanksgiving and continues through New Year’s, however, is typically one of the most dangerous times of the year on the roadways nationwide.
Travel and shopping contribute to more congestion than usual and holiday parties can mean more people getting behind the wheel drunk.
Harford County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Michael Lane urges drivers to pay attention to avoid accidents and stay safe over the next few weeks.
“Slow down. Wear seatbelts. Put down the phone and drive sober,” Lane, of the agency’s traffic unit, said. “Expect delays and follow the rules of the road.”
Many crashes could easily be avoided if drivers would improve their driving habits, Lane said.
“People don’t pay attention to road signs, they don’t care about driving and texting,” Lane said. “People just have a blatant disregard for motor vehicle laws. They’re in too big of a hurry to get nowhere.”
Traffic and congestion will get worse as Christmas nears, he said.
“People are getting in the spirit, Christmas parties, a lot more going on. College students home for a while,” Lane said.
He encourages residents to shop early if they can.
“Because the closer we get to Christmas, the shopping centers are jam-packed full of cars, there’s congestion getting into them,” Lane said. “It’s nothing new.”
That, however, can cause tempers to escalate and road rage incidents develop, he said.
“If you’re in a situation, be patient,” Lane said.
Law enforcement agencies Harford County reported approximately 3,218 crashes annual over the past five years, including 3,511 in 2018. Data on the total number of crashes reported thus far in 2019 was not immediately available.
Of those crashes a little over 1,000 each year resulted in injuries.
So far in 2019, the Sheriff’s Office has reported 212 accidents with injuries. It did not have numbers of injury accidents reported by Maryland State Police or Aberdeen, Bel Air or Havre de Grace police departments.
Harford County has averaged 19 deaths on its roadways over the last five years, Lane said.
So far this year, 14 people have died in 12 crashes on roads in Harford County, according to Lane. The first was Jan. 7 and the most recent was Oct. 5.
One-third of fatal crashes involve speed, one-third involved distracted driving and one-third impaired driving, or some combination of those factors, Lane said.
Two of this year’s fatal accidents involved two victims. On March 11, Klein’s ShopRite President Andrew Klein, 65, of Forest Hill, and Tripp Johnson, 7, a second-grader at William Paca/Old Post Road Elementary, were killed when a ShopRite tractor-trailer slammed through 11 cars on Route 24 near Ring Factory Road.
The driver, Carloo Watson, of New Jersey, faces charges of negligent manslaughter and using a handheld device while driving in connection with the accident. His trial in Harford County Circuit Court is set for Jan. 27.
Deon Christopher Clark, 49, of Edgewood, died the night of the accident, while Roshon T. Harris, 35, of Aberdeen, died Oct. 11 at Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore as a result of injuries suffered in the crash. No charges have been filed in that incident.
Fatal accidents involving one victim include:
- Jan. 7 on Route 24 at Edgewood Road;
- Jan. 18 on Route 136 north of Route 24;
- March 10 on Route 22 at Moores Mill Road;
- March 28 on Abingdon Road at Windy Laurel Drive;
- April 25 on Route 23 at White Hall Road;
- May 24 on Belair Road at Connolly Road;
- May 31 in the 1600 block of Poole Road;
- June 6 on Belair Road near Harford-Baltimore County line;
- Aug. 11 on Route 1 at Route 24; and
- Sept. 26 on southbound Route 24 at Route 40.
Incidents of drinking and driving also tend to increase around the holidays, though Lane said a more recent trend when police hold sobriety checkpoints around holidays like St. Patrick’s Day and July 4th, is that most of the vehicles stopped are Uber or Lyft drivers.
“At the holidays, they’ve gotten smart. That’s great,” Lane said. “During the holidays we have more people doing DUI enforcement. Do the right thing and get the designated driver.”
While the number of people dying in crashes that involve impaired driving are down, the total number of impaired crashes has increased over the past five years, according to data provided by Lane.
Harford averaged about 260 crashes involving impaired drivers from 2014 to 2018; 23 of those crashes were fatal and nearly a third involved injuries.
Last year, of the 280 crashes that involved alcohol and/or drugs, 81 resulted in injuries and four were fatal.
While, on average, someone will drive drunk more than 70 times before they get pulled over, according to various studies, Lane encouraged drivers not to take the chance.
“Obviously the most danger to drinking and driving is having a crash, either killing yourself or somebody else,” he said.
Handicap placards, seatbelts
The Sheriff’s Office will be conducting handicap parking details in December, when deputies are looking specifically who misuse handicap placards and license plates or park in handicap spaces without such permission, Lane said.
“Patrol will be directly looking for that kind of stuff,” Lane said. “If you do not have tags or a placard, do not park in a handicap spot.”
The fine for parking in a handicap space is $140.
If someone is using a vehicle with a handicap tag or placard and the person to whom they are assigned is not in the vehicle, the person using the vehicle will be cited and the placard will be taken away, Lane said.
“And the person who needs it will have to go through the process again to get it back,” Lane said.
Deputies will also be looking for seatbelt violators, he said.
The state average for seatbelt use is 90 percent, and Harford is “right near” that, Lane said.
Some people still don’t wear seatbelts – they say it’s their right not to, that no one is going to tell them what to do, so they defy authority.
“Some will say people are killed by seatbelts,” Lane said. “I would say many people would have been saved if they had their seatbelt on."
There have been 14 people who have died this year in traffic crashes on Harford roads this year, as of Nov. 27.
5-year average: 19
Crashes with injuries
5-year average: 1,001
5-year average: 3,218
Data provided by the Harford County Sheriff’s Office.