WASHINGTON – Afternoon rush hour is the deadliest time on Maryland roadways, with the largest number of fatal accidents occurring between 5 and 6 p.m., according to an analysis of nine years of such crashes in the state.
The 5 p.m. hour was followed closely by the 3 p.m. and 2 p.m. hours for number of fatal crashes from 1994 to 2002, and it was as much as two times higher than morning rush-hour accidents.
Transportation experts could not point to any one reason for the higher afternoon numbers, but they had several theories.
“People are more tired in the evening, more anxious to get home, to pick up the kids from daycare before they have to pay an extra $10,” said Elizabeth Baker, regional administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
“You do have darkness setting in,” Baker said. “I think all of those roll into one. I think it makes it a more dangerous time.”
Capital News Service analyzed a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration database of fatal accidents on Maryland roadways from 1994 to 2002 and found that 5.81 percent of the total — 301 of 5,175 fatal accidents — occurred between 5 and 6 p.m.
The analysis just considered the number of fatal accidents, not the numbers of vehicles involved or the numbers of people killed in each. But NHTSA said the 5,175 accidents accounted for 9,083 fatalities in Maryland, including pedestrians and bicyclists.
The spike in accidents between 2 and 4 p.m. surprised Maryland State Police Sgt. Thornnie Rouse, who found it hard to believe that vehicles could gain enough speed for a fatal crash in the often-gridlocked conditions of the evening rush hour.
“I would think it would be a different time of day — maybe at night,” Rouse said. “You’re not going to have a lot of high-speed areas in rush-hour traffic. The only thing I can attribute it to is more vehicles, more traffic on the road.”
But Maryland State Highway Administration spokeswoman Kellie Boulware was not surprised by the number of afternoon fatalities. She pointed out that there are a lot of military and federal workers in the area whose shifts run from 6 a.m. to 2 p.m. or 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. In the Washington region, she said, it is not so uncommon for people to leave their offices at 2 or 2:30 p.m.
A spokesman for the Mid-Atlantic chapter of the American Automobile Association agreed that heavy volume has a lot to do with the spike in fatal accidents in the afternoon.
“A congestive highway leaves you less time to react,” said John White, the AAA spokesman. “The roads are over capacity, the transit is over capacity, you raise the tension levels and the problems go from there.”
Baker, of the regional NHTSA office, offered another possible reason that the same commuters who drive in the morning are much more likely to be involved in a fatal accident in the afternoon or evening.
“You don’t find people breaking their necks to get into work on time,” she noted.