EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 11, 2014

Dozens of crashes hobble I-93 commute in N.H.

Highway officials say drivers going too fast for conditions

By John Toole

---- — New Hampshire officials yesterday blamed a difficult morning commute on drivers traveling too fast for conditions.

“We are seeing a general lack of attention to reducing speed,” said New Hampshire State Police Lt. Chris Wagner, commander of Troop B that patrols Interstate 93 south of Manchester.

“It’s ugly,” Wagner said, assessing the situation.

Troopers were inundated with calls to accidents. Wagner said there were dozens, though none serious. He expected the crashes would tie up troopers throughout the day.

About a half-dozen vehicles had pulled over around Exit 5 south in North Londonderry just after 7:30 a.m.

“In many cases, drivers are going too fast for the conditions with light snow and some snow cover on the road,” said New Hampshire Department of Transportation spokesman William Boynton.

Traffic at times came to a halt because of the crashes.

Pete Langlois posted on Facebook that his commute from Derry to Medford took three hours.

Nick Zaharias had a long ride, too, because of the commuting problems.

“Over two hours from Derry to Lawrence. Yikes,” Zaharias posted on Facebook.

Just after 9:30 yesterday morning, a tractor trailer traveling south on I-93 near Exit 8 in Manchester struck a tree in the highway median.

N.H. State Police said Donald Sye of Harrisburg, Pa., was driving too fast for road conditions and lost control of the 2009 International.

The crash closed the two left lanes of I-93 south while the jackknifed trailer was removed. Sye received minor injuries, police said.

Wagner said there are a lot more accidents this season than he can recall in many other winters.

In December alone, there were 161 crashes in Troop B. Wagner didn’t have historical figures, but acknowledged that’s a lot for the troop.

“It’s absolutely high,” he said.

Wagner admitted troopers are discouraged with the lack of attention and concern they are seeing from drivers.

“Drivers are not slowing down,” he said. “Everybody’s top priority needs to be take more time and go a little slower. The magic bullet is the driver behind the wheel.”

There’s a reason the state posts an advisory speed of 45 mph in bad weather.

“We tell you that to help save yourself,” Wagner said.

He estimated most drivers, 90 percent, are driving carefully, but said that’s not everyone.

“It doesn’t take but a few to gum that up,” he said.

A driver rushing to get to work in poor conditions is setting himself up for a long day if he crashes, in Wagner’s view.

“He’s probably lost his entire day,” he said.

Because troopers triage response based on the severity of the crash, it could take a half an hour before one arrives at an accident scene.

A tow truck can take another half hour or 45 minutes. Then there are calls to the insurance company and family, if not a trip to the hospital.

“People sometimes don’t realize all the consequences,” Wagner said.

A slower speed makes a difference.

“You’ve got to crank it back,” Highway Safety Agency coordinator Peter Thomson said. “You’ve got to use good sense.”

People have the mentality that they’ve got to get to work promptly, but what matters is they arrive safely, he said.

“People have to be able to get there,” Thomson said.

He also said it’s helpful for drivers to slow down when they see the slower speed advisory.

“I’m not sure how many did,” Thomson said.

Yesterday’s commuting troubles came at a time when officials are concerned about surging traffic fatalities.

Thomson said there were 133 last year, up from 90 in 2011.

“We did not have a good year with fatalities,” he said. “That is going in the wrong direction.”

Weather troubles are continuing.

The National Weather Service forecast freezing rain for early this morning, followed by heavy rain later in the day. Temperatures are expected to climb into the 50s.