Spate of Vehicular Incursions Prompts Ordinance Review

The Dollar Tree in Machias was closed temporarily over the past weekend after a vehicle struck it. Local vehicle incursions into stores have prompted the review of structure ordinances in some municipalities, including Calais. (Photo by Sarah Craighead Dedmon)

By Lura Jackson

 

The question of whether or not buildings should be required to erect safety guards to prevent vehicles from driving into them is emerging for local municipalities as a result of a long and unfortunately fatal series of accidents in the area. Calais is among the municipalities in the process of considering the addition of such requirements to proposed properties, although the new ordinance would not be retroactive for existing structures.

Vehicles driving into stores and buildings has been a constant problem in the region and across the state, including a strike over the past weekend in Machias that resulted in the temporary closure of the Dollar Tree. In June of 2017 the Dollar Tree of Calais experienced a collision, and other strikes in Calais over the years include the Family Dollar, the Rite Aid, and a fatal accident at Marden’s in June of 2013. More recently, the Family Dollar in Bangor was hit in 2016 and the Family Dollar in Bucksport was struck in January of 2018. 

The problem is not isolated to Maine. According to Rob Reiter, co-founder of the nationwide Storefront Safety Council, 60 store incursions happen every single day. As a result, 4,000 people are injured annually and as many as 500 are killed.

A recently completed review by Reiter and his team reveals that the most common cause of vehicle incursions is operator error at 30 percent. Nearly as many – 26 percent – happen because the pedals themselves malfunctioned and the driver was unable to stop the vehicle. 17 percent happened because the driver was driving under the influence of substances, while 11 percent were a result of a traffic accident in a roadway that sent a vehicle into a building. 8 percent of incursions happened due to a medical situation, such as the driver experiencing a heart attack, and 7 percent were a deliberate “ramraid” attack to enable theft. 

The age of the drivers involved is generally widespread. The greatest single category of drivers is between the ages of 20-29, comprising 20 percent of those who drive into stores. The next largest single category is age 30-39 at 12 percent. Those who are 80 or older make up 11 percent of the accidents. With that said, however, 13 percent of all incidents do not have an age specified and simply have “elderly” noted.

 The review in Calais was prompted by a concerned citizen after a family member was injured in a recent incursion while working as an employee at a local store. Peggy Dawson Bayliss remembers hearing about the strike and how she felt at the time. “It was awful for me because I knew my kid was involved,” she recalls. While her family member was not seriously wounded, Bayliss recognizes the need for protection from similar occurrences in the future. “These stores need bollards or cement planters,” Dawson suggested, adding that Rite Aid built bollards following its incident in Calais many years ago. 

The arrangement of parking lots that enable head-in parking lots with the store directly in front of the parking space is a situation that allows for drivers to inadvertently – or advertently – drive into the buildings. Requiring buildings to put barricades in place in those instances would significantly reduce the possibility of those occurrences, Reiter suggests. Reiter offers sample ordinances to any interested parties to those who contact him through www.storefrontsafety.org.

In Calais, City Manager Jim Porter acknowledges the need for new guidelines. “I agree there should be some buffering of the building from parking cars,” Porter said. He has contacted the Planning Board to consider the requirement at their next meeting, after which it may be incorporated into the next amendment of the Land Use Codes. Porter notes, however, that he doesn’t see how it would be feasible to make it a retroactive requirement for existing buildings.