Troopers see clear skies and roads as deadly They tell carefree drivers to slow down, stay alert


An increase in traffic fatalities on Carroll County roads -- seven people died in the first four months of this year -- may be a fluke, authorities say.

A mild winter may have been responsible for more deaths, said 1st Sgt. Andy Mays, a state police spokesman in Westminster.

The most recent fatality occurred in early April. The driver of a van was killed when a pickup truck crossed the center line and struck the van head-on near Taneytown. The weather was sunny and the road dry. Six others were injured in the accident.

Investigators are awaiting results of toxicology tests on the truck driver before deciding whether to bring charges. They say they found what they suspect is marijuana in the truck.

The number of fatalities is on pace to match road deaths in the county in 1996, when there were 27 fatalities, and 1995, when there were 30.

Last year there were 19 fatalities on county roads, the fewest since 1994, according to police.

Across the state, traffic fatalities fell to 591 last year from 615 in 1996, which was the lowest total since 1964, statistics compiled by the Maryland State Police show.

Police attributed the decline to increased use of seat belts, more emphasis on the dangers of drinking and driving, and crackdowns on aggressive drivers.

Better weather, according to Mays' theory, has more cars on the roads at higher speeds, and that can lead to more accidents.

Three of the seven fatalities however, were blamed on hydroplaning: A Taneytown couple was killed on the way to work after the driver of an oncoming car, also killed, lost control on the wet road.

Tfc. Richard Wolfe leads all state troopers from the Westminster barracks in issuing traffic citations; he wrote more than 1,000 last year. He offers a different perspective on the causes of fatal accidents.

Co-workers joke that Wolfe would give his own mother a ticket, but he views such comments as compliments and said he has no vendetta against speeders.

Speed and lack of attention, Wolfe says, are the main problems on Carroll County roads. Drivers are going too fast, he said. "County roads were not designed and built for high speeds."

Cars today are quieter, drive more smoothly and can easily go 40 mph or 50 mph in a residential community where the speed limit is 25 mph, Wolfe said.

"Drivers are not aware how fast they are going," he said. "That can be a big problem in a residential community with more traffic and more kids, because drivers don't have time to react if someone pulls out, or runs out in front of them."

Wolfe recently observed the county's newest speed deterrent, an electronic monitoring device that flashes the speed of approaching vehicles.

"I noticed that drivers tend to slow down as soon as they see their speed flashed on the sign," he said. "That tells me they just weren't aware how fast they were traveling."

On state highways within Carroll County, Wolfe said, drivers speed and take too many chances, cutting off others and failing to yield the right of way.

Lack of attention and pulling out without yielding is particularly troublesome on Route 140, where more than half of this year's fatalities have occurred, he said.

Wolfe said he frequently sees drivers pull onto Route 140 too slowly, causing other drivers to slam on their brakes.

"If one driver in a line of traffic isn't paying attention when that car pulls out, there's going to be a bad accident," he said.

Education helps deter drunken driving, Wolfe said, but doesn't necessarily cut down on the number of drunken drivers.

"Chances are, when you stop drunken drivers, they have done it before and never been caught," he said. "I don't believe in stopping a drunken driver and offering a ride home, under any circumstances.

"If I stop them, they're going to be cited and taken in," he said.

To Wolfe, the bottom line is one less person to kill or be killed.

Pub Date: 5/03/98

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