BETHESDA – John McMillen really liked his old 1989 Escort.
It handled well. It stayed relatively clean. And it saved him when someone sideswiped and totaled it on Old Georgetown Road a rainy April morning in 1994.
“I can still remember the whole thing,” said McMillen, a 30- year-old teacher from Gaithersburg. “The guy just turned left in front of me. There was no way I could have stopped.”
His was just one of nearly 96,000 reported accidents on Maryland roads last year. Such crashes can happen at any time of day for any number of causes, according to a Capital News Service computer analysis of data from the Maryland State Highway Administration.
SHA’s traffic department compiles accident data to determine when accidents happen, and why.
“We can use the data as a tool to find out whether there are high accident intersections, and what we can do to help prevent accidents in the future,” said Chuck Brown, an SHA spokesman.
Nevertheless, the crashes continue to happen, often with devastating consequences. In 1994:
* 111 people were killed and 3,060 were hurt in accidents involving pedestrians;
* Roughly 35 percent of the 605 fatal accidents were alcohol-related; and
* 42,565 accidents involved some sort of injury.
Laws requiring seat belt use and motorcycle helmets have decreased the fatality rates, but they cannot stop driver error.
Almost 37,000 accidents last year were caused by what police call “failure to give full attention.” Those type of accidents occur when a driver fiddles with the radio, looks away from the flow of traffic or makes a similar misstep. Of those accidents, 272 involved a fatality.
Nearly 75 percent of all accidents were the result of errors by the driver, such as speeding, changing lanes incorrectly, driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol or following too closely.
The remainder were the result of either weather-related cause or defective roads or signals.
More than 210 accidents were caused by “interference by the passenger.”
The myth of the “Sunday driver” was countered in Maryland last year. Of all the days of the week, Sunday accounted for the fewest number — just over 11 percent. The most number of accidents occurred on Friday (16.1 percent), followed closely by Saturday (15.8 percent).
The most dangerous time to be on the roads any day was between 3 and 7 p.m., when just over a third of all 1994 accidents took place. The morning rush hour, between 6 and 9 a.m., was the time for only 15 percent of all crashes.
The number of accidents, though not fatalities, jumped nearly 10 percent during high travel times around such holidays as July Fourth and Thanksgiving.
Speed was the cause of most most deaths on Maryland roads, accounting for 216 fatal accidents, or just over a third.
More fatal accidents occurred in the Baltimore metropolitan area than in any other Maryland area. Roughly 38 percent, or 233, of the people killed in Maryland died around Baltimore; the Washington area was next with 27 percent, or 164.
Deaths from accidents increased in both Southern Maryland (47 in 1994, up from 33) and the Eastern Shore counties (96 last year, from 62).
The link between high traffic and accidents is a strong one in Maryland. Of the 25 roads judged most dangerous because of the number and severity of accidents, 22 were in the state’s three most populous counties: Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Baltimore.
I-95 was judged to have the highest number of accidents, followed by State Route 355, better known as Rockville Pike. Baltimore’s Beltway ranked third.
State officials have set out a work plan to help reduce the number of accidents. Through initiatives, public campaigns and enforcement of speed laws, officials want to reduce the number of accidents. Among other things, they want Maryland drivers:
* to reach a level of 85 percent compliance with speed limits;
* to wear their seat belts more, up from 70 percent to 75 percent;
* to decrease the pedestrian and overall fatality rate; and * to lower the percentage of crashes caused by a failure to obey traffic signals. -30-