After tying record for highway deaths, Delaware moves to add penalties for speeds over 90 mph

After tying 1988’s record for highway deaths, Delaware lawmakers unveil a package of bills to crackdown on most common causes of crashes.

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Traffic on a highway in Delaware.

Traffic on a highway in Delaware. (State of Delaware)

After tying a 1988 record for roadway deaths in 2022, lawmakers propose new measures in hopes of making the state’s roads safer for all. The record-tying 165 deaths last year were mainly due to inattentive and distracted driving, as well as speeding, according to numbers from the state Dept. of Highway Safety.

The number of deaths has been rising in recent years. In 2020, 113 people died on Delaware roads, followed by 136 in 2021.

“The trend is sobering,” said Nate McQueen, secretary of the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security. “But more sobering is these fatalities involved members of our community and the long-lasting impact on the state of Delaware.”

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As of April 5, 36 people have been killed on Delaware’s roads in 2023, just five fewer deaths than the same time last year.

State leaders gathered at the Delaware Highway Memorial Garden in Smyrna recently to unveil a package of legislation designed to reduce highway deaths. The garden was dedicated in 2007 to give families and friends a place to mourn those killed on Delaware roads. Families can request memorial bricks in honor of their loved ones.

“The problem is there are too many bricks,” said Gov. John Carney. “The number of bricks added has increased unacceptably over the last several years.”

The package of legislation includes the following provisions:

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  • Expanding reckless driving charge to include speeding over 90 mph;
  • Establishing an open container law;
  • Requiring new motorcycle riders to wear helmets for two years;
  • Expanding the move over law to include disabled vehicles;
  • Adding more requirements for child safety seats.

In January, state law enforcement launched a zero-tolerance initiative targeting speeders. This legislative proposal would go a step further and increase penalties for drivers speeding over 90 mph.

“There’s so much potential for loss when somebody is driving at high speed,” said state Sen. Kyra Hoffner. “When somebody is driving 65 miles an hour, our cars are made to protect us with seatbelts and airbags. But when you start to drive 90 miles an hour, you are guaranteed to have a fatality during an accident.”

In addition to speed, alcohol plays a role in a significant number of highway deaths in the state. The state Department of Transportation says more than 12% of fatal crashes last year involved alcohol. Lawmakers hope new legislation to ban alcohol use in cars will help.

Delaware is one of 11 states that don’t meet the federal requirements for open containers of alcohol in vehicles, according to the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility. Currently, passengers are allowed to have open alcohol and drink while riding in a car. That would change under one of the provisions in this package.

“This closes a loophole, a loophole that really is against federal regulations, and it helps us stand up and I really believe do the right thing,” state Rep. Tim Dukes said. “All of these bills that are being presented are really being presented because of pain, because of the loss of life. And it’s all to promote and to protect our citizens.”

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