WASHINGTON – Walking after dark in Baltimore City? Be careful crossing the street.
Baltimore had the highest number of hit-and-run incidents on state highways in 1997 and 1998, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Board, followed by Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.
Together, the three jurisdictions accounted for almost three-quarters of the state’s 43 hit-and-run accidents in those two years, according to the board’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, which also showed that more than 60 percent of such accidents came at night.
Baltimore City had six cases in 1997 and seven in 1998, while Prince George’s County had six incidents in 1997 and five in 1998 and Anne Arundel County had five and two.
Police said high levels of pedestrian traffic in those jurisdictions increases the likelihood of a hit-and-run incident: Two-thirds of the 121 people involved in the hit-and-run crashes in the state over the two years were pedestrians, according to the database.
“Prince George’s County is a very urban area — a lot less rural than other counties” which could explain its high numbers of hit-and-run incidents, said county police spokesman Joe Merkel.
Montgomery County, by contrast, had only three such cases in two years. Officials said it could be because there are fewer pedestrians on county roads, or because of better-located crosswalks, road designs and public awareness.
Queen Anne’s, Frederick, Kent, Howard and Baltimore counties also recorded hit-and-run incidents over the two years.
Hit-and-run accidents are only a small percentage of the total number of highway crashes in the state — 4.2 percent of the total in 1997 and 3.5 percent in 1998. But they are worrisome because they often involve drivers who are driving under the influence of alcohol or other substances, said Maryland State Police spokesman Pete Piringer.
“The typical scenario” in hit-and-run cases, he said, involved “someone who had been drinking or doing drugs.” Both pedestrians and the drivers could be under the influence when the accident happened, he said.
Speeding can also be a factor, police said. “We try to counter speeding by increased traffic enforcement,” said Merkel, but he acknowledged that “a lot still goes on.”
Low visibility was definitely a factor, said Baltimore City Police spokeswoman Angelique Hayes. Fifteen of the 24 state’s hit-and-runs in 1997 happened either after sundown or before sunrise, on dark but lighted roads. In 1998, eight incidents were on dark but lighted roads and four were on dark roads.
“Both pedestrians and drivers may not be able to see as well at night as they do in the daytime,” Hayes said.
Merkel said low visibility can also hamper investigations, because witnesses are less likely to notice details about the car and the suspect, who is also more likely to think he might get away in the dark.
Piringer said dark roads can pose another problem: Some drivers may not stop because they may not realize they hit a person. Some will turn themselves in later, but only after they hear about the accident and realize they may have been involved, he said.
Piringer could not say how many arrests have been made in the state’s hit- and-run cases.