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Driver ticketed going 136 mph on 495, May is National Bicycle Safety Month

By: John Townsend, AAA Mid-Atlantic

WASHINGTON, D. C.  ––Like bats out of hell, dangerous speed demons are going over 100 miles per hour, or more, on area roadways. Law enforcement agencies and highway safety advocates, including AAA Mid-Atlantic, are sounding the alarm about speeding motorists on emptied streets, roadways and freeways across the region and the nation. The stark warnings come as more people are walking, jogging, and cycling amid the pandemic stay-at-home orders and shutdown protocols implemented across Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. Be safe when you venture out on two feet or on two wheels.

Because there are fewer cars on the roads, pedestrians, joggers and cyclists may feel a false sense of security. For safety’s sake, area police departments are cracking down on drivers exceeding the speed limit and driving aggressively during the shutdown. On May 2, a Virginia State Trooper issued a summons to a driver going 124 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone on Interstate 95 in Fairfax County, which before the pandemic lockdown, had some of the “most gridlocked roads in the country.” By Saturday evening, at least eight drivers had been cited for driving 100 mph or more on Virginia roadways by Virginia State Troopers. Shockingly, Troopers ticketed one of those drivers for going 132 mph on I-95 in Fairfax County.

If you find that utterly shocking, Maryland State Troopers issued a citation to a motorist clocked going at 136 miles per hour on the Capital Beltway, which is more than double the posted speed limit of 55 mph on I-495. On Sunday, Maryland State Troopers issued tickets to motorists measured speeding at “114 mph, 120 mph, 130 mph and 136 mph” on the Capital Beltway and Interstate 95. Maryland State Troopers ticketed nine motorists for zooming 100 mph or more; they issued 115 citations to drivers going 80-89 mph; and they slapped tickets on 31 motorists caught going 90-99 mph, all in the period from April 26 through May 1.

Since the shutdown, speed cameras in Montgomery County reportedly captured a fivefold – 500% – increase in the number of thoughtless motorists clocked going 100 mph or more, compared to the same period last year. For instance, “Washington D.C.’s traffic has been quelled by 80 percent,” reports Forbes. “Yet the number of speeding tickets issued has reportedly jumped by 20 percent, with violations for going 21-25 mph over the limit up by around 40 percent.”   

 “Whatever impulse it is that’s motivating some uncaring drivers, with no particular place to go, to turn roadways into speedways, this must stop,” cautioned John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “Why this reckless behavior? Why now? With fewer cars on the roads, some motorists are driving at reckless speeds, even though speeding doesn’t necessarily result in saving time on the road. In fact, the average time saved on a 5-mile trip driving 65 mph on a 45 mph posted road is only 1.9 minutes. It’s important that drivers follow posted speed limit signs.”

Health advocates are encouraging people to get off the couch, and to engage in outdoor activities for exercise, as long as proper social distancing is practiced. In fact, the District is widening sidewalks in five locations to add more space for social distancing and to decrease the risks of contracting Coronavirus while people are out and about.

As of May 1, nine persons have lost their lives in traffic crashes in the District in 2020, reports

the Metropolitan Police Department. That compares to 8 persons who perished in traffic crashes in the city during the same period of time in 2019. It comprises a 12 percent uptick in traffic fatalities year to date. Virginia saw 2,302 traffic-related crashes between March 25th and April 24th, the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) is reporting. That’s down from 10,462 a year earlier, a 78% drop. Of those crashes, 31 involved bikes, compared to 45 in 2019. That’s down only 31%. The Maryland State Police responded to 1,012 crashes in the period from March 19, 2020 through April 19, 2020 during the pandemic shutdowns, compared to 3,163 crashes during the same period of time a year earlier, according to media reports.

“This new Coronavirus lockdown reality finds children, parents and families dusting off bicycles and lacing up sneakers and walking shoes to head outside for fresh air and exercise,” said Townsend. “It is imperative for all children and their parents, and it behooves all pedestrians, joggers, motorcyclists, exercisers, cyclists, and moped and e-scooter riders to review proper safety tips and take necessary precautions to make these outdoor activities as safe as possible.”

Lead-footed motorists pose a danger to others on the roadway, including other motorists and people out walking, hiking, running, dog-walking, biking, rollerblading, scootering and skateboarding. Even so, there is a distinct and deathly relationship between a pedestrian’s risk of death and the impact speed of vehicles.

For example, “The average risk of death for a pedestrian reaches 10% at an impact speed of 23 mph, 25% at 32 mph, 50% at 42 mph, 75% at 50 mph, and 90% at 58 mph,” the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety reveals.

Prince George’s County witnessed the deaths of 22 pedestrians and two cyclists in 2019, according to news reports. All told “16 pedestrians” lost their lives on roadways in Fairfax County in 2019. Last year, the District witnessed the roadway deaths of “12 pedestrians and two cyclists,” while Montgomery County recorded the deaths of “13 pedestrians and one cyclist in 2019.” Moreover, “Pedestrians and bicyclists made up 32 percent of the 290 traffic fatalities in the Washington region in 2018,” cautions the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments’ (MWCOG) Street Smart program.

Despite the shutdown, police officers are still ticketing drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians violating traffic safety laws. During 2018, 88 pedestrians lost their lives in crashes across the Washington metro area, reports the Street Smart program. Of that fatal tally, more than two dozen pedestrians perished in Prince George’s County, compared to 17 foot travelers in Fairfax County; 14 persons on foot in neighboring Montgomery County; and 11 pedestrians in Washington, D. C. proper.  In addition, five cyclists perished in crashes across the region in 2018, a year that witnessed 290 traffic deaths across region, reports the Street Smart program. That deathly toll includes 103 traffic fatalities in Prince George’s County alone, including 61 motorists, 27 pedestrians, 12 motorcyclists, and two cyclists, in 2018.

In the whole of Maryland there is an average of 816 bicycle crashes per year, reports the Maryland Highway Safety Office (MHSO). About 80% of these crashes result in injury or death. Across the Potomac, there were 633 crashes involving bicyclists in Virginia in 2018, cautions the Virginia DMV. Nationally, there were 857 bicyclists killed in motor vehicle crashes in 2018, a more than six percent increase from the previous year, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

National Bicycle Safety Month is here. However, the Bike to Work Day 2020 event has been canceled due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Commuter Connections announced on March 30. This spring bike races have been postponed. Yet this year, it seems more people are cycling amid the COVID-19 safety and social distancing measures. Under the stay-at-home orders outdoor exercise is allowed, making cycling an option for many while practicing social distancing. “The best plan for riding right now is to go out and ride solo and enjoy the outdoors, in non-crowded areas,” recommends Bicycling magazine. “And, try timing your rides for when you know your route will be less crowded.” Although there are fewer cars out and about, don’t let your guard down, whether you are a pedestrian or pedalcyclist, advises AAA Mid-Atlantic.

 AAA Bike Safety Reminders

  • Always wear a helmet. Wearing a properly fitted helmet can reduce your risk of serious injury by as much as 85%. For guidance on fitting a helmet, see the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fitting Your Bike Helmet.
  • Maintain your bike. Before riding, inflate tires properly and check that the brakes work and that your chain is not showing serious signs of wear.
  • Make yourself visible.  No matter the time of day, make yourself visible to others. Wear neon, fluorescent or other bright colors when riding, to be most easily seen. Wear something that reflects light, such as reflective tape or markings, or flashing lights. Remember, just because you can see a driver doesn’t mean the driver can see you.
  • Look for hazards such as potholes, broken glass, gravel, puddles, leaves, and dogs. All these hazards can cause a crash.
  • Obey traffic laws. A bicycle is a vehicle and you’re the driver. When you ride in the street, obey all traffic signs, signals, and lane markings.
  • Use verbal and non-verbal communication. This includes eye contact with drivers, turn signals, pointing to road hazards for bicyclists behind you, and stating “passing on your left,” or “on your left.” Your bike should be equipped with a bell or horn to alert other cyclists, pedestrians and motorists of your presence.
  • Be predictable. Ride in a straight line, not in and out of cars. Signal your moves to others.
  • Look before turning. When turning left or right, always look behind you for a break in traffic, and then signal before making the turn. Watch for left- or right-turning traffic.
  • Children should not ride alone. Children younger than 10 years old are not able to make necessary safely decisions and should ride with an adult. Utilize safer routes such as sidewalks when available.

Injuries are high in bicycle and pedal-cycle crashes, and even higher in in pedestrian crashes, AAA warns. Think of it this way: everyone is a pedestrian at some point in the day. Unfortunately pedestrian fatalities remain high. In 2018, there were 6,283 pedestrians killed in traffic crashes, a three percent increase from the previous year and the most since 1990, NHTSA reports. “As more people take to the sidewalks and streets, we are all responsible for making safety a top-of-the-mind priority,” said Townsend. “Pedestrians and drivers should remain alert and be aware of each other’s movement on the roadway.”

 AAA Pedestrian Safety Reminders

  • Walk on sidewalks whenever possible.
  • If no sidewalk is available, you must walk on the left side of the road, facing traffic.
  • Cross at crosswalks.  Keep to the right in the crosswalk.
  • Look both ways before crossing the street.
  • At signalized intersections, cross only on the proper signal.
  • Avoid crossing the street between parked cars.
  • Watch for cars. Be sure that the way is clear before you start crossing. Continue looking and checking while crossing.
  • Never assume a driver sees you. Make eye contact with drivers as they approach you to make sure you are seen.
  • Motorists must yield to pedestrians crossing the street at marked and unmarked intersections. But the pedestrian must either be within the crosswalk or affirmatively indicate an intent to cross.
  • Wear or carry retro-reflective material or carry a flashlight at night to help drivers see you.
  • Avoid distractions. Limit phone use, loud music, and other distractions while walking.

David M. Higgins II, Publisher/Editor

David M. Higgins was born in Baltimore and grew up in Southern Maryland. He has had a passion for journalism since high school. After spending many years in the Hospitality Industry he began working in...