The data behind another deadly year on Vt. roadways

Published: Jan. 5, 2023 at 4:54 PM EST
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - The number of deaths on Vermont roads increased slightly in 2022, but data from VTrans shows the long-term trend is going the other way.

“We are seeing an increase in alcohol and drugs already, without all the toxicology in from last year. We’re also seeing an increase in unbelted fatalities,” said VTrans’ Mandy White.

Though the numbers are not finalized for 2022, VTrans reports there were 73 fatal crashes on Vermont roads that resulted in 76 deaths. The number of crashes was up slightly from 69 in 2021.

Another category they track is fatal crashes involving older drivers -- anyone 65 or older. They say “involved” does not mean at fault. Older drivers were involved in 24 fatal crashes in 2022, just over a third of the total, an increase from recent years.

Bill Jenkins with the state’s Highway Safety Office says driver behavior may have shifted during the pandemic, leading to the slight uptick in fatal crashes the past two years. “There was some reduced enforcement during the pandemic and it seems like a small percentage of the people have gotten used to driving less safe and taking more chances, and it seems like we haven’t been able to pull that back,” he said.

While fatal crashes rose in the past two years, the long-term trend shows that, on average, deaths on Vermont roads are actually on the decline. The data shows the rolling 10-year averages starting in 1997 and ending in 2021. From 1997 to 2006, the average number of deaths was 86. Since then, the numbers dropped into the 70s and as low as 61 between 2011 and 2020.

“A lot of that probably has to do with cars being safer, roads being safer. There are infrastructure things that VTrans and towns are doing to make the roads safer,” White said.

Jenkins says in order to continue on the downward trend, drivers would benefit from increased education and more enforcement. “We take driving for granted because most of us do it all the time. We jump in the car and we don’t even think about it, but we need to take that second to think about it,” he said.

He says while law enforcement agencies deal with staffing challenges, many are still involved in seatbelt initiatives, as well as increased patrols to combat impaired driving during holidays.