NORFOLK—Virginia’s traffic fatalities have increased 17% due to riskier driving since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and state officials are looking for solutions.
According to Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles data, traffic fatalities jumped from 827 in 2019 to 968 in 2021. Traffic experts gathered to discuss this troubling trend at the ninth annual Distracted Driving Summit, presented by DRIVE SMART Virginia
, in Norfolk Aug. 18 and 19.
“We put a lot of money into our safety programs to bend these curves back in the right direction,” said Cathy McGhee, Virginia Department of Transportation chief deputy commissioner. “It’s a testament to the commitment we made to improving safety on our roadways in Virginia for all users of the system.”
She announced $340 million dedicated to newly implemented safety performance measures and programs.
McGhee said motorists may have noticed new traffic safety features already utilized in both populated and rural areas, like high-visibility back plates—a yellow box around traffic signals to enhance visibility on long stretches of roadway.
“It makes it easier to see because we know drivers can be distracted,” she said. “And we will spend over $40 million on rumble strips. They are so effective at keeping you in your lane. We’re going to invest heavily on getting those to rural areas of the commonwealth.”
High-tech approaches are intended to increase safety and mobility in busier regions, like the new variable speed limits on I-95 northbound between Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia.
“Give them a chance!” McGhee urged the audience. “These catch you farther back and slow you down when we recognize there is a problem ahead. We don’t get that end-of-queue, hard-braking event and the rear-end collisions that result from that.”
But there’s a problem, she added, “We’re asking you to slow down before you see the reason.”
Speed compliance is an issue everywhere. Automated speed enforcement in work and school zones, though unpopular with motorists, may be a solution, she said. Pilots of this enforcement strategy should be in place by 2023.
“Who is a fan of cameras sending you a ticket? It gets a bad rap,” McGhee acknowledged. “But we have to do something to control speed in school and work zones where people are directly in harm’s way.”
Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. is a DSV partner and summit sponsor.
Bryan Marangoni, DSV chair, said it will take a concerted effort on the part of many government, law-enforcement and safety agencies and responsible drivers to make the state’s roads safer.
“We will not achieve zero roadway deaths without the work of many partners coming together toward this common goal,” said Bryan Marangoni, DSV chair. “We must band together and work smarter, in a collective environment, to move the needle.”
Media: Contact Rich Jacobs
, DSV media relations, at 804-929-6117; or Marshall Herman
, VDOT, at 804-652-9689.