WASHINGTON – A State Highway Administration study blames driver error, not the roadway itself, for the recent rash of fatalities on U.S. Route 301.
The monthlong study, released Tuesday, was in response to the 11 deaths on the Prince George’s County portion of the road this year, almost four times last year’s total.
The study examined police reports to discover what caused the fatal crashes.
“Many of the crashes involved local residents and were a result of driver inattention,” said Maryland State Police Superintendent Col. David B. Mitchell.
State police and highway administration officials announced Monday that they would combine efforts to lower the fatality rate.
Even though the accidents “are caused by driver inattention and were not related to the roadway,” said SHA spokeswoman Valerie Burnette Edgar, improvements to the road are being made. Those improvements are aimed at increasing driver awareness, said SHA Administrator Parker F. Williams.
The improvements include:
* Changing the timing of signals at Croom Road and Osborne Road to improve traffic flow.
* Changing the yellow casing that now surrounds traffic signals to black, to improve the visibility of the signal.
* And installing three signals at intersections along Route 301, up from the current two, “in the event that one signal light has burned out,” Williams said.
“These are things that have been proven to improve driver behavior,” said David Buck, a spokesman for SHA.
The state police will also continue their stepped-up patrols on Route 301 in an effort to curb the number of fatal accidents on the road. They increased patrols on the road before the Thanksgiving holiday in response to the high number of accidents there.
“State troopers will be on the lookout for unsafe drivers and will increase enforcement efforts, which will include high- visibility, saturating patrols along the corridor,” said Mitchell.
The main goal of the increased enforcement is to keep the speed down, said Williams.
More police cruisers — marked and unmarked — will patrol Route 301. Police are also distributing a brochure filled with defensive driving tips at frequently visited businesses along the corridor.
John Adams, who owns John Adams Trucking in Brandywine, said the study revealed nothing new to him.
“It is nothing but the truth,” said Adams. “Of course it is driver error.”
Adams said car drivers should have to take training classes to improve their driving, as truck drivers must do now.
“It is time for the state to start training car drivers to be professionals,” he said.
Williams said the report did not find a discernible trend among drivers, such as speeding or failure to use turn signals, that could be blamed for the accidents.
“We will be particularly alarmed if some sort of trend does form,” he said.
The state will continue to study the highway to make sure that the situation improves, said Buck.
“Hopefully, we will see some improvements right away,” said Buck. “But we are going to see how these changes work and go from there.”
Buck said that changing the roadway is only the beginning.
“Changing someone’s habits so that they do not run a red light is something we need the driver’s help to do,” he said. “It is going to take a conscious effort by the drivers to make the situation really improve.”