This year N.H. is having more car crashes, but fewer fatals

  • Images from a car crash in Belmont show a vehicle badly damaged after striking trees and utility poles. Monitor file

Monitor staff
Monday, September 18, 2017

There’s some bad news and some good news on New Hampshire roads and highways this year: Through the start of September, we have been involved in a lot more crashes, but we are suffering far fewer fatalities.

Through Sept. 5, there have been almost 15,000 reportable crashes, meaning crashes involving $1,000 or more of damage, in New Hampshire, a full 17 percent increase over the same period last year.

Yet the number of fatal crashes over that period has fallen by 25 percent, as has the number of people who die in crashes – just 66 fatalities so far this year, compared to 88 at this time last year.

So what’s up? Good question.

“We have some ideas ... but it’s hard to say that any one thing has done it, or whether next year will be the same or different,” said Capt. John Morasco, who oversees the office of highway safety.

Morasco pointed to improvements in car technology, such as passenger-side air bags, and changes in road design such as rumble strips as one reason for a long-term decline in auto fatalities, along with targeted law-enforcement projects such as increased patrols on holiday weekends and education programs about driving under the influence.

Yet he also noted the rise in driving distracted by mobile technology – the target of the state’s law requiring use of “hands-free” devices while driving – and the surge in opioid use that has led law enforcement to see more drug-impaired drivers than alcohol-impaired. These could be leading to more accidents, even if the worst consequences of those accidents are staved off by technology.

It is difficult to draw conclusions from the information so far this year because data about New Hampshire road fatalities often fluctuate, due to the numbers being relatively small. For example, 2016 saw a 19 percent increase in road fatalities over 2015 while the number of total crashes was largely unchanged.

Nationally, the number of people dying on roads and highways has been climbing over the past two years, reversing a decades-long decline, according to the National Safety Council, a nonprofit that works with federal road-safety officials.

The group estimated that 40,200 people died in accidents involving motor vehicles in 2016, a 6 percent increase from the year before and the largest toll since 2007.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)