Vt. State Police ‘alarmed’ by spike in fatal crashes

So far this year there have been 51 deadly crashes on Vermont's roadways -- and 55 people have died.
Published: Oct. 1, 2020 at 8:38 AM EDT|Updated: Oct. 1, 2020 at 8:57 AM EDT
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WILLISTON, Vt. (WCAX) - So far this year there have been 51 deadly crashes on Vermont’s roadways and 55 people have died. Although the number is not unprecedented based on historical data from the Governor’s Highway Safety Commission dating back to 1994, officials say no loss of life is taken lightly.

“June and July were just deadly months for Vermont, sadly,” Vermont State Police Lt. Tara Thomas said. This past July was the deadliest month in the past decade Vermont has seen on the road with 15 deaths. Thomas says they are still breaking down why crashes are so deadly this year. “We’re always trying to evaluate what is it that is happening on Vermont’s roadways that is causing these accidents.”

  • 55 deaths so far in 2020
  • 26 deaths at this point last year
  • So far, the 10-year average says nine more people have died than in a typical year.

Up until September 29th, 23% of deaths on the road have been caused by speeding alone. Some 53% of the people involved were not wearing a seat belt and more than 35% involved an impaired driver.

Those numbers are subject to change through the rest of the year, and Thomas says it is hard to compare partial year data to full-year data, but deaths related to seat belts and impaired driving are trending along normal lines while speeding deaths are increasing.

Although the overall number of crashes this year is down, the number of deaths is up. Numbers Thomas says she is tired of seeing.

"It’s alarming, it’s concerning and it’s frustrating,” said Thomas.

“The state police and other law enforcement partners, we’re not here to get people in trouble, this is literally and only about saving lives," said Vermont State Police Sgt. Jay Riggen.

He says they believe the majority of the people on Vermont’s roadways are being safe and they are asking friends and families of those making bad decisions to help self-regulate.

“It’s about stopping the behavior before it leads to the enforcement. And beyond that is death and loss of livelihood, because we aren’t there to save them from themselves," said Riggen.

Riggen says self-policing becomes critical every time you go to get in a vehicle.

“Yes, this can happen to you and, by the way, it does, and unfortunately in Vermont, it is nearly weekly,” he said.

And Thomas says staying safe on the road is as important for you, as it is for others.

“I always say you have the right to know that the car coming at you is doing what they need to do to stay within their lane just as you have the responsibility to do the same," said Thomas.

Thomas also mentioned that as we creep into the fall and temperatures drop, it’s important to remember that ice isn’t the only thing making roadways slippery, wet leaves do, as well.

Authorities are planning on running all their typical holiday safety campaigns they would, regardless of COVID-19.

With the deadly year, that means first responders have been exposed to a significant amount of trauma. The VSP Members Assistance Team, or MAT, was designed to follow up with troopers after they respond to trauma, allowing them time to debrief and defuse before they need clinical assistance. At the beginning of this year, they decided that all troopers that responded to deadly crashes or traumatic events would receive the service. Members of MAT can either be dispatched directly to the scene or as a follow-up service. The team is made up of 11 troopers, four dispatchers, one civilian, two clinicians, one pastor and 13 liaisons who can work as assistance with special teams such as the bomb squad, scuba or search and rescue. So far, officials say they have seen an increase in the number of people using the service for a variety of reasons, but they are glad in a year with a high number of roadway deaths, that the service is available.

“State police do have a very robust members assistance program, so we have a lot of what you call ‘after-action reviews’ when we have incidents where tragedy is involved. When our troopers are exposed to these sorts of circumstances, we are very good about checking in and making sure our members are still doing well," said Thomas.

They say their hope is to ensure troopers retire from the Vermont State Police as healthy, both physically and mentally, as when they were sworn in.

Tragically, we've seen numerous deaths on our roads in 2020. We need to slow down, put away our phones, and never drive...

Posted by Governor Phil Scott on Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Gov. Phil Scott also says he’s concerned about the number of deaths on the roads this year.

“We need to slow down, put away our phones, and never drive under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Whether it’s getting the flu vaccine, wearing a mask to protect against COVID-19, or slowing down on our roads, we need to be smart and stay safe. It’s literally in our hands," Scott, R-Vermont, said in a statement.

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