Highway safety group: Maine receives ‘green’ rating, but has room for legislative improvements
Motorists are seen cruising both northbound and southbound on I-95 near the Old Town, Maine, exit on Wednesday, Sept. 28, 2011.
Pat Wellenbach / AP photo
(The Center Square) – Since Maine has passed many of the laws the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety recommends, it received a “green” rating, showing “significant advancement,” in the 18th Annual Roadmap of State Highway Safety Laws report the organization released this month.
The state had received a ‘yellow’ rating from the Advocates’ January 2019 report , but new laws since then have improved its rating. Maine Gov. Janet Mills signed in June 2019 “An Act To Update the Laws Governing Child Safety Seats and Seat Belts,” which requires all children younger than 2 years old to ride rear-facing and "clarified" its booster seat law, according to a Maine Bureau of Public Safety news release .
An “all-rider” motorcycle helmet requirement and improvements to graduated driver licensing laws remain on Advocates’ to-do list for Maine.
The state currently solely requires the following people to wear helmets while on a motorcycle: juveniles, drivers with a learner’s permit, drivers in the first year following completion of the driving test and passengers of drivers who are required to wear helmets.
Advocates recommends a minimum age of 16 for obtaining a learner’s permit, minimum age of 18 for receipt of an unrestricted license and stronger nighttime restrictions.
“We’d like to see them improve their nighttime restrictions as well for novice drivers,” Tara Gill, Advocates’ senior director advocacy and state legislation, said. “Right now, it’s midnight to 5 a.m., and our recommendation is 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.”
According to calculations from The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the Highway Loss Data Institute, that additional limitation of nighttime driving could reduce fatal crashes 5% and collision claims 2%.
“Teens are particularly susceptible to fatigue, so getting them home is helpful on that note as well,” Gill said.
Maine suffered 152 traffic fatalities in 2019, 156 in 2020 and 1,402 from 2011 through 2020, according to Maine Department of Transportation data . Motorcycles were involved in 28 fatal crashes in 2020. The most common type of fatal crash that year involved going off the road (85 crashes), followed by head-on/sideswipe crashes (23) and intersection movement (19). The most common months for fatal crashes occurrences were August (23), June (18) and May (16).
Wild animals were involved in thousands of crashes in 2020, including some that were fatal. Moose were involved in 260 crashes, mostly from May through October, which caused one fatality and six suspected serious injuries. Deer were involved in 5,332 crashes (including two fatal crashes and six that caused suspected serious injuries). Most crashes occurred in October (639) or November (985). Bears were involved in 30 crashes, and turkeys were involved in 32 crashes. These crashes did not result in vehicle occupant fatalities.
The Maine Department of Transportation recommends drivers be especially careful after sunset and reduce speed because animals – especially moose – can be hard to see. Drivers near a moose should slow down, stay in their vehicles, wait for the moose to leave the roadway and be alert for other moose that may be nearby, according to the department’s wildlife safety page .
“If a crash with an animal is imminent, apply the brakes and steer straight,” the Department advises. “Let up on the brakes just before impact to allow the front of your vehicle to rise slightly and aim to hit the tail end of the animal. This can reduce the risk of the animal striking the windshield area and may increase your chances of missing it.”
Maine is among seven other states, including Delaware, Rhode Island and New York, that have a green rating in the report. Thirty states have a yellow rating, “indicating that improvement is needed because of gaps in Advocates’ recommended optimal laws,” and 12 states, including New Hampshire and Vermont, have a red rating, as they “fall dangerously behind” in adopting Advocates’ recommendations.