No tolerance for bad drivers, state police step up patrols

Police step-up patrols after fatal crashes

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BENNINGTON — The Vermont State Police are stepping up traffic enforcement following a string of fatal crashes earlier this month.

There were seven fatalities on Vermont roads on Aug. 7. In response, state police will be focusing more heavily on issues including speed, driving under the influence, distracted driving, and seatbelt use.

"That was one of our most deadly days on the road as far as traffic fatalities go," said Sergeant Seth Loomis, of, who is assigned to the Vermont State Police barracks in Shaftsbury. "People need to be safe, slow down, wear their seatbelts, and take responsibility for their actions."

Unfortunately, the issue extends beyond one deadly day on Vermont roads. As of Aug. 8, 39 traffic fatalities have been recorded by Vermont State Police comprising of 26 drivers, 10 passengers, and three pedestrians.

"Driving in this state is a privilege, it is not a right," said Loomis. "We need to treat it as such."

In placing an emphasis on traffic safety, Vermont State Police also hopes to increase accountability on the roads.

"There is a problem here that we need to address, and I think we've got the message across in Vermont that law enforcement is not going to take this anymore," said Loomis. "We are going to start arresting people for their actions, and holding them accountable."

Of the 39 reported fatalities in 2017, drivers were suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, drugs, or both in 16 cases. In half of those crashes, the driver was found to have active cannabis in their system.

"We are seeing an increase in DUI with drugs in the state of Vermont," said Loomis. "More recently, we are seeing a lot more numbers going up with marijuana impairment, because we have a lot more drug recognition experts in the state."

Marijuana is not the only drug to blame for dangerous drivers, however.

"We're also seeing it for heroin; a lot of people under the influence of opiates or prescription medications are driving," said Loomis. "All of those things tie in. It's not just the alcohol impairment anymore; it's the totality of all of the drugs that are out there and available."

In terms of prescription medication, Loomis notes that it's a common misconception that driving after taking drugs prescribed by a doctor is safe.

"If you are taking an impairing substance you need to be responsible enough to realize that this medication will affect your driving abilities, and it could cause an accident or hurt someone," said Loomis.

Still, alcohol impairment remains a major safety issue.

"I don't think anyone has the intent to go out there and kill somebody on the road, or seriously hurt someone, or total their car," said Loomis. "What it comes down to is having the responsibility to call for a sober ride or plan ahead of time."

In many of the seven fatal crashes on Aug. 7, speed was a major factor. This year, 16 drivers were suspected to be speeding in the 39 reported fatalities.

"When we saw the spike in fatalities, one of the common things with that was speed," said Loomis. "A lot of those crashes could have been avoided if people had just slowed down a little bit."

In May, Vermont State Police established four traffic safety corridors throughout the state (I-91 between exits 1 and 3, the I-91/I-89 interchange, I-89 between exits 7 and 10, and I-89 between exits 12 and 17) in conjunction with DMV enforcement, local law enforcement, municipal partners, VTrans, and the Vermont Highway Safety Alliance.

"On the interstate when you see those `slow down' or `bad weather signs,' they record data," said Loomis, noting that a combination of high traffic volume, high speeds, and a high rate of crashes influenced the locations of these corridors. "They're recording the speed of vehicles that are coming up the interstate, and that's largely where we're coming up with this information."

These corridors will see an increased level of enforcement for violations involving speed, distracted and aggressive driving, impaired driving, and seatbelt use in the interest of reducing crashes.

Though the corridors do not extend to the Southwestern corner of the state, Bennington county will also see increased enforcement on these issues.

"You'll probably see a lot of careless and negligent cases come out of this," said Loomis. "Last week I had one at 92 miles per hour with four children in the car."

While many recognize that excessive speeding is dangerous, there is a different level of recognition when drivers are actually arrested for this behavior, according to Loomis.

"In that case it was a parent, who was driving with four children in the car and going 92 miles per hour, and wasn't thinking at all about the safety of the children," said Loomis. "It was interesting to see that once you arrested that parent, they looked at me like I was doing something wrong by arresting them for driving negligently."

Seatbelt use, or lack thereof, has also proven to be a large factor in traffic fatalities.

"With the fatalities this year, approximately 57 percent of people were unbelted, and I think that's a prime reason," said Loomis. "One thing that we're seeing, even in minor fender benders, is that people are not wearing their seatbelts."

While a seatbelt may cause bruising or discomfort after a crash, the driver will at least be alive to tell the tale in many cases.

"People are not wearing seatbelts; whether they don't like it, or it's not comfortable, or they think it's going to hurt them," said Loomis. "The fact is, you're going to survive a crash more than likely if you're wearing your seatbelt. It keeps you in the vehicle instead of being tossed out."

Vermont State Police hopes that by helping Vermonters understand the dangers of driving, they can make the roads safer across the state

"We're forced to hold people accountable for their actions," said Loomis. "The ticket just doesn't seem to be doing it justice anymore."

While the consequences may be disagreeable for drivers guilty of negligence, this month's rash of fatalities illustrates how much higher the cost could be.

"We need to start hammering it home and making the message clear that the Vermont State Police, really law enforcement in general in Vermont, is no longer going to take the negligence of operators out there," said Loomis. "We are going to arrest you, we are going to essentially make an example of you, to get other people to slow down and be safe on the roads."

Reach Cherise Madigan at 802-490-6471.

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