PROVIDENCE — Members of the Rhode Island Police Chiefs’ Association were joined by statewide highway stakeholders for a ‘Blessing of the Roads’ event yesterday morning.
The event took place Thursday at Doric Park in Cranston, just off of Interstate 95.
“It may be a noisy and unconventional place to hold such an event, but we do so to bring attention to the rise in motor vehicle fatalities that are taking place on our roadways,” said RIPCA Executive Director Sidney Wordell. “Those who will be speaking are not just supporters, but leaders when it comes to making our roads safer for all who use them.”
As part of the event, RIPCA’s official Chaplain, Fr. Joseph Escobar of Our Lady of the Rosary Church in Providence, performed a blessing to the roads and highways in the state in the hope that fatalities will be reduced in the coming year.
“May drivers obey the laws of the road and be mindful of others who are traveling on the roads as well,” Fr. Escobar said during the blessing. “We also bless those who respond when accidents do occur as they offer their assistance to those in need. May we travel our roadways with care and with mindfulness, so that as we travel we always reach our destination in safety and in peace.”
Steps Being Taken to Reduce Roadway Fatalities
Speakers at the event discussed the steps being taken to reduce roadway fatalities in the state. Col. James M. Manni of the Rhode Island State Police shared statistics on the number of fatal motor vehicle crashes in the state in recent years.
There were 73 roadway fatalities in the state in 2020, which is up from 57 the year before and the highest yearly total since 2017.
“We were on pace to see a reduction in fatal crashes last year, but then COVID hit and that contributed significantly through increased anxiety, alcohol use and drug use,” Col. Manni said. But in 2020 the Rhode Island State Police alone arrested 512 impaired drivers, which was an increase of 32 percent from 2019. We have done education, and we have done outreach, but make no mistake, it also takes enforcement. We are out there 24-7, and we will arrest anyone who is caught driving under the influence.
Col. Manni credited the formation of a statewide Traffic Safety Unit in November 2019 as a major step forward in enforcement efforts, stating that the unit accounted for more than half of the Rhode Island State Police’s arrests for impaired driving in 2020.
RIPCA President and West Greenwich Police Chief Richard Ramsay spoke about the things drivers can do to reduce roadway fatalities before they even get behind the wheel. These include never driving while impaired from drugs or alcohol, putting your phone away or in hands-free mode before driving and always remembering to wear a seat belt.
“True vehicle safety begins in your driveway,” Chief Ramsay said. “We know we have a long way to go to achieve the goal of zero roadway fatalities in our state, but if each of us follows a few simple rules it will go a long way toward reducing the number of deaths on our roads.”
Rhode Island Department of Transportation Director Peter Alviti, Jr. shared the good news that not one fatality took place on Rhode Island roadways during the recent Super Bowl weekend, nor did any occur during either of the two most recent snow storms. But the number of motor vehicle fatalities overall thus far in 2021 has still been high.
“This blessing is a way to start anew, and make a fresh commitment to be more responsible on our roadways, to be more attentive, and to not get on our highways while under the influence,” Director Alviti said. “Our Highway Safety Division is always hard at work with our first responders trying to make our roads safer.”
Sean Cassidy, Executive Director, MADD-RI, spoke of the statewide initiatives that have been put in place to combat motor vehicle fatalities.
One such initiative was the recent “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” campaign, which this year honors the memory of those lost in alcohol-related crashes. The campaign paired the families of victims with police officers who conducted targeted DUI enforcement patrols.
“It is important to remember that these victims are not just statistics, they are our loved ones, our family members and members of our communities,” Executive Director Cassidy said.