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How deadly are Vt. roads? State officials weigh in - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

How deadly are Vt. roads? State officials weigh in

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

2012 began with a deadly trend; there were four fatal crashes in the first four days of the year. Six months in, twice as many people were dead compared to the year before.

"Our statistics here in Vermont this year are really abysmal," Vt. DMV Commissioner Rob Ide said in July 2012.

Luckily, the trend leveled, but not before 75 people lost their lives in deadly crashes. There were five double fatalities and one triple fatality.

"Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for Vermonters of virtually all ages," said Dr. Harry Chen, the Vermont health commissioner.

The number of deaths is up 32 percent from last year. But keep in mind 2011 had the lowest fatality rate since 1944. This year's rate is in line with the state's 10-year average. State officials admit it's impossible to stop all crashes, but the goal is to lower the number of preventable deaths. Twenty-eight of this year's fatalities were linked to speeding.

"Nothing slows down traffic like seeing a trooper in the U-turn," Vt. Public Safety Commissioner Keith Flynn said.

Then there's impaired driving. Sixty percent of the fatals this year involved drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Two high profile cases involved drivers huffing chemicals behind the wheel. And authorities say Jason Potvin had bath salts in his system when he lost control of his car on Interstate 89, killing himself, his girlfriend and their 8-month-old child.

"We need to increase our enforcement efforts. We need to increase the ability of our prosecutors to prosecute these cases successfully," Flynn said.

Change is coming. Vermont got its first drunk driving murder conviction this year after Timothy Dowd pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for his role in a crash that killed Dealer.com employee Kaye Borneman.

"The message is going to be loud and clear to the rest of Vermont: When you drink and drive under these circumstances, we're going to call it what it is-- murder," Chittenden County Prosecutor T.J. Donovan said in January 2012.

But officials say the easiest way to stay safe on the road is to take the proper precautions. In all four motorcycle fatalities, the riders were not wearing DOT-approved helmets. And 44 percent of the people who died on Vermont's roads this year were not wearing seat belts.

"To the 85 percent of Vermonters who wear their seat belt every day, I'd like to say thank you so much. But to the 15 percent that don't wear and don't get it, I'm going to tell you you're selfish," said Ted Minhall of the Governor's Highway Safety Program.

Distracted driving-- namely cellphone use-- is another area of concern for state officials, especially among the state's youngest drivers. Chen says he would support a ban on cellphone use while driving.

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