Fatal Vermont crashes at historic low for 2019

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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) The two fatal crashes in the Northeast Kingdom on Wednesday come during what has been an extraordinarily safe year on Vermont highways, according to state officials. With the increased amount of cars on the road this weekend, Vermont State Police say they want to keep it that way.

"The traffic always picks up around the holidays," said Vermont State Police Trooper Adam Marchand, who spent part of his Wednesday morning patrol on Interstate 89 in Chittenden County. He'll also be on duty for the Fourth of July, one of the busiest travel days of the year. "Fourth of July is just historically known to have crashes and fatalities with it."

Vermont State Police Lt. Tara Thomas says Vermont had zero fatal crashes last year on the 4th. They want to keep it that way this year and hope the high visibility of troopers on both highways and less traveled roads will encourage safe driving.

"We have fatals on backroads, we have fatals on interstates. To be concentrated in one area isn't necessarily effective during a holiday campaign, so we will be out there in full force in all areas," Lt. Thomas said.

State Police have responded to around 4,000 crashes so far this year. Through the first half of 2019 there were only 11 people killed in traffic accidents in the state. At this time last year 27 people had died on Vermont roads. In 2017 there were 26 deaths in the first half of the year, and in 2016 the number was 32 -- three times the total from this year.

If the second half of 2019 stays at the pace of the first six months, the state would see a total of 22 traffic deaths -- less than half the 50-year low of 44 deaths set back in 2014, and well below the average of 65 seen in the last decade.

Despite the record-low pace for fatalities, first responders like Lt. Thomas are not satisfied. "One fatal is too many," she said.

Police say impaired driving is a big focus this holiday. Four drivers involved in fatal crashes this year are suspected to have been under the influence.

Speeding is also a concern, especially in 55 mph zones on I-89. Marchand says drivers also often fail to move to the next lane while a traffic stop is taking place. "We try to mitigate it the best we can, especially with crashes. That's why sometimes you'll see four or more troopers at a crash scene, just trying to control traffic," he said.

This holiday -- and everyday -- police are urging drivers to keep their speed down and pay attention to the road. "Plan ahead, have a sober driver. The traffic is going to increase due to the holiday so you really just need to pay attention." Lt. Thomas said.