Again and again, calls to for Maine drivers to slow down or “be vigilant” have fallen on deaf ears.

Maybe the confirmation that came in last week will be enough to cut through: The number of deaths on our roads in 2022 was the highest in 15 years.

Maine has a grave challenge on its hands. In 2020, we suffered more road traffic deaths per capita and more deaths per mile than any other New England state. No step that has been taken so far has done anything to arrest the horrifying trend – and pitifully few have been taken.

The elevated levels of injury and death on our roads have been so sustained and the response to the crisis so dismally lacking that Mainers could be forgiven for thinking it couldn’t be fixed. Here’s the thing: it can.

By June of this year, the numbers were already alarming. At the start of the “100 deadliest days” – a one-time calendar fixture that the statistics have torpedoed into irrelevance – 58 people had died on Maine roads, a more than five-fold increase on 2021. By the end of the summer, the figure had risen to 116, the highest in five years.

Speed continues to be a leading cause of crashes. In one of our most widely circulated letters in recent months, a letter writer compared Interstate 295 to the Daytona 500.


“Interstate 295 is getting faster, more dangerous and much busier than at any other time that I have witnessed in the past 30 years,” wrote Bob Asbell of Brunswick. “People are going 80-plus miles per hour while traveling bumper to bumper. You never see a Maine State Police cruiser anywhere from Brunswick to Portland.”

Several of the responses online exhibited a loose grip on reality. “That’s what Rt 1 is for,” read one reply. “If you can’t keep with the flow of traffic on a modern American interstate, then you shouldn’t be driving on it.”

By that interpretation, the interstate is a deadly free-for-all. Call it an inability to adjust post-pandemic (although road traffic fatalities rose in Maine in 2020, despite – or perhaps because of – the limited volume of cars on the road), blame poorly designed roadways, or rampant compulsive cellphone use, or blame new cars with bells and whistles that leave drivers feeling complacent.

Whatever the collection of root causes, the need for a campaign that will be uncomfortable and unwanted by many is in no doubt. What else is uncomfortable and unwanted? Approaching 200 road fatalities in a single year.

The state must start with some entry-level safeguards. Rules are redundant without patrol and enforcement. There’s an obvious need to staff up traffic police. Thanks to technology, not everything needs to be staffed; automated red-light cameras can be instituted at notorious intersections. Speed cameras can be introduced on our most hazardous stretches of road.

Sobriety checkpoints should not be controversial in the face of such danger – there’s no good case against conducting them regularly so that drivers know to obey the rule. With distracted driving on full view for years on any road in Maine, anemic phone-use rules need to be strengthened. The state should explore the introduction of a system of penalty points in the place of cash fines, which disproportionately hurt lower-income drivers while generally being too low to deter offenses.


2022’s traffic fatalities included 20 pedestrians and cyclists struck and killed by vehicles in Maine; it was the third time in six years that the number of deaths hit 20. These groups, wrongly endangered in our state, need to be defended by appropriately illuminating sidewalks and crosswalks; new and more effective road markings; the creation of adequate and protected space in road building, and repair of existing routes.

Work on infrastructure and routes needs to be central to any response. Eighteen cities and towns in Greater Portland are collaborating on a Vision Zero action plan, led by the Greater Portland Council of Governments, with a focus on responsive road design informed by detailed public consultation.

In tandem with sophisticated efforts that must properly researched, funded, resourced and stuck with, has to be an exaggerated preoccupation with safety on the part of the average Mainer. If you don’t feel more wary or more cautious on the roads of late, or take a moment’s pause before beginning a journey, you simply haven’t been paying attention.

New measures are required because we can’t seem to help ourselves.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.