On the heels of Delaware tallying a record 165 lives lost on its roads in 2022, the state Office of Highway Safety will host three public forums to look for ideas that help educate drivers, reduce crashes and prevent traffic deaths.
The office believes there are multiple factors for the increase in traffic fatalities, the highest since 1988, said Communications Officer Meghan Niddrie.
To compare: the state had 101 roadway deaths in 2009; 117 in 2020; and 139 in 2021.
“Data continues to show that the leading cause of fatalities on our roadways is speeding, impaired driving and distracted driving,” she said. “One of the factors may have stemmed from the pandemic, where we saw less traffic and congestion on our roadways, allowing people to engage in some of these risky behaviors.”
The job of the Office of Highway Safety, housed in the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, is to educate drivers and improve roadway safety through the use of federal funds.
They want to remind drivers, walkers and rider to follow the rules of the road and help them understand why those rules are in place.
The office doesn’t recommend laws, but supports efforts by others, Niddrie said such as Gov. John Carney’s 2023 package of bills to improve driver safety and the recent graduated use of helmets by motorcycle riders who are in the first two years of having a license.
RELATED STORY: Delaware toughens rules on motorcycle helmets, eyewear
The office works a lot with police departments through funding and grants.
“That’s why we fall into the blanket of Safety and Homeland Security rather than DelDOT,” she said. “We focus more on behavioral issues rather than engineering.”
Drivers may be most familiar with some of their programs the office pays for, including advertisements as well as routine police swarm patrols or roadblocks that look for specific things, such as drunk drivers, seat belt usage and speeding.
The office puts out its own annual fact- and graphic-filled Highway Safety Plan and works with the Delaware Department of Transportation, Delaware State Police and other agencies to create five-year strategic plans.
Highway safety forums
The Office of Highway Safety will hold a public forum in each county to look for ideas it can build education campaigns around.
It’s not looking for information about troublesome or scary intersections, or even an overgrown bush that blocks a driver’s view, Niddrie said. Those kind of problems will be referred to DelDOT.
But, she said, if someone expresses worry about how panhandlers and people selling flowers from a highway median step onto the roadway or into traffic to make sales or collect money, that could be an issue the office could build an education campaign around.
“The main goal of these forums is to get feedback from the community,” Niddrie said. “We want to know how we can update and maybe tailor our messages to more specifically make an impact on different communities.”
Among the issues the office considers crucial are impaired driving, pedestrian safety and speeding and how that affects drivers, walkers and riders. Feedback will help the office create future programs that are engaging, relevant and motivational.
Messages that the office pushes for walkers is to use designated crosswalks instead of trying to dart across traffice and to wear reflective materials at night, for example.
Here’s where to attend an Office of Highway Safety forum:
- SUSSEX COUNTY (English and Spanish): Tuesday, Sept. 19, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Georgetown Public Library, 123 W. Pine St., Georgetown.
- KENT COUNTY: Tuesday, Sept. 26, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Modern Maturity Center, 1121 Forrest Ave., Dover.
- NEW CASTLE COUNTY: Wednesday, Sept. 27, 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Route 9 Library & Innovation Center, 3022 New Castle Ave., New Castle.
Registration is not required, but is encouraged. You may register at SaferRoadsDE.com
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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