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Editorial: On roads, safety in numbers  

JERREY ROBERTS
Traffic at the corner of Northampton and West Streets in Easthampton Wednesday.

JERREY ROBERTS Traffic at the corner of Northampton and West Streets in Easthampton Wednesday. Purchase photo reprints »

In 2010, the year for which the most recent data is available, Hampshire County saw 2,644 motor vehicle accidents — a decrease of 10 percent, or 302 accidents, from a decade ago. The number of car accidents in the county has been slowly declining for years and may well fall further if citizens continue to speak up about dangerous locations.

In addition to identifying the most hazardous intersections and roads in the Valley, a recent two-day series in the Gazette noted how these trouble spots get fixed. While crash data plays a role, public concern can be a powerful motivator in prioritizing road work.

In Northampton, for instance, the city hired a consultant to study traffic at the downtown intersection of Main, Pleasant, Bridge and King streets following people’s reaction to a May motor vehicle accident that fatally injured bicyclist Harry Delmolino, 18, of Hadley. And prompted by a citizen petition signed by 200 residents, the city recently installed raised crosswalks by the Jackson Street School to enhance safety, particularly for students walking to and from school.

Speaking out can help get bigger projects noticed, too.

Major reconstruction and repaving jobs are usually paid for through the federally funded state Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). To get on the TIP list, a project has to rise to the attention of the local TIP committee, which sends road construction proposals to the state. In this region, the committee is organized by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and includes state and regional highway authorities as well as area mayors and Select Board officials.

As government budgets get tighter and less money is available for road work, competition for funding has intensified. Public support can give a project an edge and bring about work that might have otherwise lagged.

This is not to say that city engineers and public works directors are blind to hard data. Police officers usually give departments a heads-up about potentially hazardous roads. Every five years or so the PVPC compiles a report on dangerous intersections, and most municipalities track road conditions. But they also rely on firsthand reports from drivers.

While it is important for residents to take an active role in road safety, talking about it may not be enough to make our travel routes safer. New signs, better street markings and even a complete intersection redesign won’t make a difference if drivers aren’t minding the road.

Henry Jasny, vice president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety in Washington, D.C., noted that although car safety features, driving laws and road design practices have evolved to improve safety on streets, bad driving behavior hasn’t improved much. He cited forgoing seat belts and distracted driving as major contributors to crashes. Indeed, a 2010 University of Massachusetts Amherst study found that drivers are 20 times more likely to be involved in a motor vehicle accident while texting than at any other time.

Alert, responsible and civic-minded drivers can be one key to reducing crashes today and in the future. It’s up to all of us to make that happen.

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