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Good news, bad news in driving data

Some good news on driving safety today from Gov. Bob McDonnell: Traffic fatalities on Virginia roadways will reach a record low in 2010 for the second straight year.

Some bad news on the safety front today from AAA: A new report indicates that 10 percent of drivers have driven while under the influence of alcohol at least once in the past 12 months, and more than half of those reported doing so multiple times.

“Drunk drivers put everyone on the road in danger, especially during holiday season which often combines travel with multiple opportunities to consume alcohol,” AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson Martha Meade said.

And that’s the focus in the here and now, with the festive New Year’s holiday on the horizon. Analysis of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data from 2000-2009 shows that an average of 80 people a year are killed nationwide in alcohol-related crashes on New Year’s Day, and in 2005, the last time New Year’s fell on a Saturday, 98 people died in alcohol-related crashes on New Year’s.

AAA is encouraging people to visit to sign a quick online pledge to drive only while drug and alcohol-free this holiday season and all year long. Once you’ve taken the free pledge, you can share it via Facebook and Twitter, or even send personalized E-cards to encourage others to do the same.

Efforts at the state level to combat drunk driving are attributed with the reduction in traffic fatalities in Virginia in 2010. As of today, there were 715 road deaths reported statewide compared to 750 on this same date last year; a 5 percent decrease from 2009 and a 40 percent decrease from a record high of 1,026 traffic fatalities in 2007.

This year, DMV’s Virginia Highway Safety Office, Virginia State Police and local law enforcement joined together for “Checkpoint Strikeforce,” an annual media and enforcement campaign aimed at preventing drunk driving; as well as with VDOT for “Operation Air, Land and Speed,” an enforcement effort conducted periodically on Virginia’s interstates. DMV and State Police also partnered with local law enforcement for the periodic “Click It or Ticket” safety belt enforcement mobilization.

While the downward trend in traffic deaths is positive, safety experts warn motorists not to become complacent.

“We must remain vigilant on our roadways since there’s no such thing as an ‘acceptable’ number of traffic deaths, except zero,” said DMV Commissioner Richard D. Holcomb, the Governor’s Highway Safety Representative.

Virginia State Police Superintendent, Col. W. Steven Flaherty, advises motorists to buckle up, avoid distractions, obey the speed limit and not to drive impaired.

“Virginians must make smart decisions and take responsible actions while driving on our roads,” Flaherty said. “The loss of life on our highways is unfortunate and needless. The goal for all of us should be to prevent crashes and change our driving behaviors for the better.”

Story by Chris Graham. Chris can be reached at