Montgomery Co. leaders want to eliminate traffic-related deaths

ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County officials are exploring major transportation and policy changes to eliminate traffic-related deaths in coming years.

The Montgomery County Council has introduced the Vision Zero resolution to make it safer for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.

Similar projects have adopted by cities worldwide, including Washington, D.C. Through a combination of higher fines and changes to street engineering, Mayor Muriel Bowser wants to end D.C.’s traffic-related deaths by 2024.

It’s a bold plan for Montgomery County, but leaders say it’s possible.

“We need to look at fines, making them the kind of fines that can cause people to change their behavior and how they drive,” said Councilman Hans Riemer, who co-sponsored the county resolution. “We’re building bike networks, protected lane bike networks. We need to do more of that.”

More speed cameras, reduced speed limits, improved crosswalks, better intersection design and stricter penalties for impaired drivers are just some of the options leaders are considering.

The council will set a time frame to achieve these goals. Last year, 44 people were killed on county roads or state highways in Montgomery County.

Four people have been killed in the past two months, said Montgomery County Council Chairman Roger Berliner, a resolution co-sponsor.

Leaders say those deaths are preventable.

“Shame on us if we don’t take the steps to bring this under control,” said Councilman Marc Elrich.

In recent months, Montgomery County Police has stepped up targeted enforcement of distracted or impaired drivers, including a sting operation that disguised officers as homeless people to catch drivers texting.

Police Chief Tom Manger said the number of traffic deaths has decreased over the years, but there are still too many people losing their lives.

“Probably the most common reason that collisions occur is that people are paying attention to something other than their driving,” Manger said.

He’s calling on Maryland lawmakers to bolster penalties for drunk drivers, after the death of Montgomery County police officer Noah Leotta, who was struck by an impaired driver.

“So that if you’re caught driving drunk,” Manger said, “the consequences are significant enough that you’ll think twice before you do it again.”

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