At the Montgomery County Public Safety Headquarters today, Police Chief Tom Manger and Fire Chief Scott Goldstein urged community members to “Be Safer this Holiday Season,” and to “Be Seen, Be Alert, and Be Responsible.” Already this year in Montgomery County, there have been 33 fatal traffic collisions in which 34 people lost their lives.
“The fourth quarter of the year, which includes the holiday season, is one of the most dangerous times of the year for drivers and pedestrians,” said Manger. “Traffic collisions increase with, on average, 135 pedestrians involved in those collisions. This traditionally has been the highest quarter of the year for traffic crashes and we need to do everything we can to prevent these tragedies.”
“Any pedestrian fatality or injury is one too many,” said Chief Goldstein. “Our first responders see firsthand the correlation between distractions and collisions. Drivers, look out for pedestrians especially in hard-to-see conditions such as nighttime or inclement weather. Pedestrians, follow the rules of the road and pay attention to traffic. Whether on foot or behind the wheel, we need to work together, look out for each other and curb the distractions.”
Joining the Chiefs to support a safer holiday season were: the chair of the County’s Pedestrian, Bicycle and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee Darrel Drobnich, the director of the MCPD Traffic Division Captain Tom Didone and the chair of the County’s Commission on People with Disabilities Seth Morgan, M.D.
“A lot of times when I stop people they ask me, why we don’t give warnings,” said Captain Tom Didione, “because warnings don’t work. This is the warning. We are going to be out in force. We are very serious about it. We are doing it because we want to get people home safe. We hope that our collective efforts are successful and our Collision Reconstruction Unit doesn’t get a call out for the rest of the year and our numbers stay at 33 fatal collisions.”
“Do yourself and your family a favor this holiday season and think about your responsibilities on roads, crosswalks and bike paths,” said Drobnich. "Don’t trust the other guy to do the right thing; be ready to yield the right-of-way. Let’s also give our County’s police and emergency personnel a break this holiday season by all doing our part to be safer."
Didone said Montgomery County Police would be conducting over 40 traffic operations in the month of December which will target both drivers that don’t yield to pedestrians. Drivers who fail to stop for police officers who will be walking in crosswalks during “Crosswalk Stings” while also targeting pedestrians who are jay-walking.
County officials, members of law enforcement and traffic safety activists encourage community members to reduce traffic fatalities with the following strategies:
Be Seen: Think about how to be more visible when walking during morning and evening periods of darkness. Consider purchasing a light-colored winter coat or wearing a white scarf and gloves. Look for reflective and/or flashing accessories in bicycle supply shops that can be easily worn with a coat. Pedestrians should never assume that a driver can see them, just because they can see the vehicle.
Be Alert: Always give full attention when walking or driving. Maryland is a Hands-Free state, no texting or even holding a cell phone while you are driving. Distracted driving continues to be a leading cause of collisions. When walking by a roadway or when crossing streets, don’t wear ear buds and don’t be looking down at a cell phone. Holiday shoppers are particularly encouraged to be aware of one another in parking lots. Over the past four years, approximately 25 percent of the County’s pedestrian collisions have occurred in parking lots.
Be Responsible: Don’t Drink and Drive and don’t host a party for teens that includes alcohol. During the holidays, County law enforcement agencies work together to deploy a Holiday Alcohol Task Force to reduce the incidents of drunk and drugged driving. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says that due to the increased use of alcohol during the holidays, there are more impaired drivers on the roads and that results in an increase in the occurrence of fatal alcohol-related collisions.
Task force members will also be responding to reports of underage drinking parties. Adults and parents are asked to support zero tolerance of underage drinking.
“Don’t host underage drinking parties,” pleaded Chief Manger. “Every year it seems like we have to talk about a tragic loss of life due these parties. Last year it was a Sherwood High School student up in Olney, and this year it was two Wootton High School students who died after they drank at an underage party. Their losses will surely be felt harder during this holiday time of you.
The Montgomery County Police Alcohol Holiday Task Force, comprised of officers from the Alcohol Initiatives Section and patrol officers from the six police districts, as well as officers from the Gaithersburg City Police Department, the Maryland National Capital Park Police Department (Montgomery County Division), Maryland State Police, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office, and the Takoma Park Police Department, will be devoting their full time and attention to detecting alcohol-related offenses this holiday season. The Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control (DLC) will also be assisting with this initiative. The task force began November 15 and will continue through January 9, 2016.
The task force will focus on enforcement of offenses to include:
Enforcement of traffic laws in areas known for a high number of alcohol-related tragedies with the goal of getting drunk or drug-impaired drivers off the road.
Compliance checks of businesses who hold alcohol licenses by using underage volunteers to attempt to purchase alcohol at establishments (ensuring that shopkeepers are careful not to sell alcohol to minors).
Surveillance by officers in plain clothes of local businesses who sell alcohol (ensuring that shopkeepers are not selling alcohol to minors and also ensuring that minors are not using false identification or using other means to buy alcohol).
Responding to calls for underage drinking parties. All attendees are screened for alcohol usage, and those who are under age 21 are issued citations. Every person is then ensured a safe ride home. Parents of juveniles are notified to come and get them. Any parent or other adult who hosts can also be held liable and can be issued a citation.
Sobriety checkpoints: The location of the checkpoints is based on collision and traffic data focusing on areas that drivers are most at risk for encountering impaired drivers.
Both police and fire rescue personnel work together on the “Shop with a Cop or Firefighter” campaign. Officers and firefighters go to busy shopping center parking lots across the County to provide extra security and safety awareness.
“This program is important because gives us an opportunity to get into the shopping center parking lots and remind people about being safe,” said Didone. It is important that drivers and pedestrians look out for each other. “It is important that as a driver and pedestrian, you have eye contact with each other. We will be handing out a brochure with information about keeping your head up as a pedestrian and making eye contact.”
They’ll be handing out bright yellow reusable shopping bags to aid in the “Be Seen” efforts. The bags contain information about parking lot safety and respecting the designated disability parking spaces.
The Shop with a Cop police officers will also be conducting enforcement of laws regulating the use of designated disability parking spaces. “It is very difficult for disabled people to shop,” said Didone. “It is even more difficult when people selfishly park in disabled parking spaces. We will be looking for people abusing disabled parking spaces. We will be issuing $250 citations. If our trained officers identify someone that is fraudulently using a disabled placard, that comes with an even bigger fine. We will be aggressively looking for that.”
Drivers are reminded that the individual who was issued a placard or plate must be transported in the vehicle for the vehicle to legally park in a designated disability parking space. Parking in a striped area/access aisle adjacent to and between disability spaces is also against the law. Those striped areas allow room for wheelchair lifts to load and unload passengers.
Disability parking spaces are located in all parking lots and garages within parking districts for the exclusive use of those with disability tags or placards. Even when vacant, they are never, even for a matter of minutes, for use by anyone else.
“I wish everyone a safe, happy, and peaceful holiday season, but unless your holiday is safe it is going to be tough to have a happy holiday season if you are involved in some kind of collision or other tragic circumstance. Especially, when these sort of incidents are so preventable,” said Manger.