Roadways are getting deadlier

Published 6:35 pm Thursday, April 28, 2022

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With recent advances in safety technology, driving a vehicle should be safer than ever. Yet, we’re told by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles that fatal car crashes in the commonwealth reached a 14-year high in 2021 — and that 2022 is off to an even deadlier start.

So far this year, 245 people have been killed in crashes on Virginia roadways, a 12% increase compared to this point in 2021.

Last year, 968 people died in crashes on Virginia roadways — a 14.3% increase over 2020 and the highest number of annual fatalities since 2007, when 1,026 fatalities were recorded. According to final 2021 crash statistics from DMV’s Highway Safety Office, fatalities increased across a number of categories, such as speed-related fatalities, commercial motor vehicle-involved fatalities and fatalities of motorcyclists, pedestrians, bicyclists, teen drivers and mature drivers. 

The common thread in all of the discouraging numbers is driver error or negligence.

“There are immediate, simple actions Virginians can take to save lives on our roadways,” said acting DMV Commissioner Linda Ford. “This is critically important as fatalities continue to increase this year. Vehicles and roadways are safer than they ever have been, yet we continue to lose lives to senseless crashes. Do your part to help. Slow down, buckle up, focus on the task of driving and never drive impaired. It truly is that simple.”

Virginia’s numbers reflect a startling national trend. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, more than 31,000 people died in crashes in the first nine months of 2021, a 12% increase over the same time period in 2020 and the highest number of fatalities during the first nine months of any year since 2006. 

We see a couple of culprits. 

First, drivers are too distracted. In the old days, distractions while driving occurred mostly outside the windshield. Today, there are many ways to be distracted inside the vehicle, from the car’s internal technology to handheld devices. A relatively new state law that prohibits touching a smartphone while behind the wheel is largely ignored, based on what we see when out and about on our roads and highways.

Second, motorists are wound way too tight, and many let their emotions get the best of them. We completely understand the lingering effects of COVID-19 lockdowns on people’s collective psyche. The rising cost of living due to soaring inflation also has people on edge. Unfortunately, pent-up anger and frustration are being released through aggressive driving. Road-rage incidents are becoming more common, inevitably leading to crashes that injure and kill.

We all need to take a deep breath before getting behind the wheel, lest the statistics get worse.

“This trend is poised to continue unless Virginians take action,” Ford said. “Most people want to contribute to something greater; by driving safely, you can truly make a difference, not just in your life, but in the lives of everyone with whom you share the road.”