AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Despite concerns about driver texting and inattention, the number of highway deaths in Maine in 2018 was among the lowest in 60 years, officials say.
As of New Year's Day, there were 140 deaths on Maine roads over the past year, which is 33 lower than the 173 recorded in the previous year, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
The lowest number of fatalities was 131 in 2014, and there were 136 fatalities in 2011. The largest number of deaths was 276 in 1970.
It's unclear why the numbers were relatively low.
Part of the reason is likely that more people are surviving crashes thanks to new safety features in cars. There were also significant reductions in the number deaths of pedestrians and younger drivers between 16 and 19, said Lauren Stewart, director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety.
In 2018, the state launched a program focusing on pedestrian safety that included public service announcements, public meetings and extra law enforcement after the numbers pedestrians hit by cars spiked, Stewart said. It appears to have helped, she said.
Nationwide, the number of highway deaths was down in 2017, and estimates for the first half of 2018 suggested another decrease, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
But those numbers vary from state to state, Stewart said, and speeding, impaired driving and distracted driving all remain concerns.
In particular, distracted driving is something motorists see on nearly a daily basis.
"When there is a reduction in fatal crashes, it is a wonderful thing. But that doesn't mean we still don't have a big distraction problem that we need to address. People are doing it every day. Some days they're crashing. On others they're getting away with it," she said.