MAINE, Maine — Lauren Stewart tried to find the right words to describe the data she has seen since the beginning of 2022.
The director of the Maine Bureau of Highway Safety met NEWS CENTER Maine for a virtual interview Thursday afternoon while emergency crews were still working on the side of the road in Albany at the scene of the most recent fatal crash in the state.
Through March, the Maine DOT reported 8,548 vehicle crashes statewide, up from 7,162 during the same span in 2021. Stewart added fatal crashes were up 27 percent during the same timeframe.
"It has just been increasing beyond anything that we can comprehend," she said.
April is Distracted Driving Awareness Month. Sgt. Daniel Hanson with Maine State Police is a face of Maine's efforts to curb distracted driving. He directly attributed drivers' lack of attention on the road to the increase in crashes.
"For us on the roadway, sitting on the side of the highway, watching traffic, it's alarming, the number of people that don't pay attention," he said during a Thursday interview. "They're not seeing it. They're not reacting."
While officials take this month to warn distracted drivers, the busiest months lie ahead during tourist season. Bangor, a gateway to tourist havens like Acadia National Park, saw a two-thirds increase in vehicle incidents compared to this time last year.
"I don't expect traffic crashes to level off during the summer months. There's just more people on the road," Sgt. Wade Betters of the Bangor Police Department said.
Stewart cautioned Mainers not to be quick to blame out-of-staters for summertime collisions. She said her office tracks where drivers who get into crashes in the state are from and said Mainers cause most crashes, even during tourist season.