Charles County law enforcement officers are writing more traffic tickets and stepping up patrols to apprehend drunk drivers in an effort to stem the growing number of traffic deaths in the county.
There have been 30 auto fatalities in Charles this year, four more than all last year.
"Frankly, with a full two months and the holiday season to go, we're concerned," said Sgt. Casey McDevitt, spokesman for the Charles County Sheriff's Department.
McDevitt said that last weekend special patrols were assigned to Waldorf's Piney Church Road, where an earlier accident had claimed a teen-ager's life and injured four passengers.
"Police wrote at least 15 tickets there in a very short time," McDevitt said.
More police radar devices and special spot patrols using officers on overtime will be employed during rush hours at heavily traveled intersections and on weekends to spot speeders and drunk drivers, McDevitt said.
"We're having a lousy year. We're getting a lot of people killed down here," said Sgt. Thomas Bays, a statistician for the state police in Charles County. "Unfortunately, the last quarter of the year is always the highest in terms of deaths on the road, and we're just getting into it."
Of particular concern are two intersections that state highway officials say are among the 10 worst in Maryland. The first is the intersection of Rtes. 5 and 231 in Hughesville. That eastern Charles County intersection was ranked second worst in the state based on traffic volume.
"It's just a very narrow, well-traveled road," McDevitt said.
The intersection of Smallwood Drive and Rte. 925, No. 10 on the list, is a problem from an engineering standpoint and because of the high accident rate, said Thomas Watts of the Maryland Department of Transportation's Bureau of Accidents.
Alcohol was a factor in at least half of this year's fatal accidents in Charles County, said Ruth Briscoe, a spokeswoman for the state police in Waldorf. Last year, seven of the 26 accidents involved alcohol use, she said.
In St. Mary's County, to the south, the number of alcohol-related fatalities is even higher. Seven out of 13 fatal accidents in 1984 involved alcohol, according to Lt. Thomas Daly, data processing coordinator for the state police in Pikesville.
Three of the 10 fatal accidents in St. Mary's this year involved alcohol, said Cpl. George Taylor of the St. Mary's state police barracks in Leonardtown.
Taylor said the lower level of alcohol-related fatalities is related to stricter penalties for drunk driving and more public awareness. But he cautioned against early optimism.
In Montgomery County last year, 52 persons died in 48 accidents. In eight, alcohol was cited as a reason, Daly said.
In Prince George's County, 110 people died in 104 accidents. Alcohol was a factor in 19, Daly said.
State police have long blamed the proliferation of drive-through liquor stores and drinking establishments in Southern Maryland for the area's high number of accidents and deaths. In December, officials in St. Mary's County banned the sale of "go cups" -- individual portions of drinks often sold at drive-in windows and at bars at closing time.
But in Charles and St. Mary's, it is still possible to buy a six-pack of beer, a pint of bourbon or a jug of wine without getting out of your car, say police in those counties.
Although drinking alcohol while driving became illegal in the state in July, police say it is still a hard custom to break in Southern Maryland.
"People are responding reasonably, but it takes time. Drinking while driving is an up-front issue now. People are starting to run a little more scared now, and bar owners are afraid to let people out the door with those 'go cups,' " Taylor said.
State highway officials said Maryland's worst intersection is in St. Mary's, the crossroads of Rtes. 234 and 242 in the rural town of Clements.
There were 6.07 accidents per 1 million cars at the crossroads, but there is no data on how many involved alcohol, said Thomas Watts of the Bureau of Accidents.
"It's a four-way intersection where two 50 mile per hour roadways come together at a blinking light . . . . It's a very high-risk crossroads even though downtown Clements consists only of a baseball field, a gas station, a store, a tavern and a restaurant," Taylor said.
Among the other intersections on the state's 10-worst list are Rtes. 118 and 355 in Montgomery County, the McDonald's entrance on Rte. 755 in Harford County, and Rte. 402 and Armory Road in Calvert County.