May 7 2020

MassDOT: Empty Roads Leading to Increase in Fatal Crashes


State authorities are warning residents that even though there is less traffic on the road that does not mean it is time to put the pedal to the metal and to slow down. 

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) is reporting that the rate of fatalities on Massachusetts roadways doubled in April when the number of vehicles on the roads is factored in. The department said that while there is 50 percent less traffic recorded on major highways, 28 individuals died in crashes, compared with the month of April 2019 when there were 27 deaths on roadways in the state. MassDOT says the high fatality rate last month underscores the importance of not exceeding the posted speed limit, wearing a seatbelt, driving sober, and obeying the hands-free law.

“Our traffic and safety engineers continuously monitor roadways across the Commonwealth and have identified a dangerous trend that has led to the doubling of the vehicular fatality rate in Massachusetts for the month of April,” said Highway Administrator Jonathan Gulliver.  “During the pandemic, everyone in the Commonwealth has sacrificed and used disciplined actions to keep themselves, their loved ones, and our community safe. We ask that all residents use this same dedication to safety and reduce their speeds when driving.”

The department says that just because there is less traffic that is not a reason to drive faster than normal. 

“Reduced traffic volume is no excuse for excessive speed,” said Jeff Larason, Director of Highway Safety for the Executive Office of Safety and Security.  “We're reminding everyone to drive responsibly, wear a seatbelt, and watch the road for cyclists and pedestrians."

Stacey Beuttell, Executive Director of WalkBoston, added: "With the stay-at-home advisory still in place, everyone should expect to see more neighbors walking, rolling, or running in the street as they try to maintain six feet of physical distance on narrow sidewalks. If you are driving, be prepared to yield to people walking and drive slowly. Empty streets are not a license to drive faster. Please consider every street a shared street and stay safe."


Motor vehicle deaths occurred state-wide in April, including three deaths in a 24-hour-period on April 18 and April 19, MassDOT said.

The Commonwealth has several initiatives which seek to improve road safety, including:

- The Massachusetts Strategic Highway Safety Plan, crafted by a diverse cross section of government agencies, advocates, and other stakeholders which contains specific strategies, direct actions and legislative proposals to get Massachusetts closer towards zero deaths and to an interim goal of a 12% drop in five-year average fatalities and a 21% drop in five-year average serious injuries.

- The 2019 Massachusetts Pedestrian Transportation Plan and 2019 Massachusetts Bicycle Transportation Plan seek to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries for pedestrians, individuals using a wheelchair, cane or other assisted mobility device, and those riding bicycles while increasing the number of trips taken.

- MassDOT’s public education program, “Scan the Street for Wheels and Feet,” underscores the need for greater awareness on the road, citing statistics including, “1 in 4 deaths in motor vehicle crashes involve people walking or bicycling.”  MassDOT has been pleased to work collaboratively on this public safety initiative with the Massachusetts Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Boston Vision Zero, WalkBoston, MassBike, and the Safe Roads Alliance. 

In addition, in January 2019, the Baker-Polito Administration filed several proposed safety bills, including the hands-free law which became law in February 2020, with fines for violations taking effect April 1.  


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