Home DMV: Highways in Virginia see 17 percent increase in traffic fatalities in 2021

DMV: Highways in Virginia see 17 percent increase in traffic fatalities in 2021

driver auto car distracted
(© Syda Productions – stock.adobe.com)

While fewer vehicles were on highways during the COVID-19 pandemic, drivers engaged in riskier driving habits, which they have not given up two years later.

Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles data reveals that in two years traffic fatalities in Virginia have increased 17 percent, from 827 in 2019 to 968 fatalities in 2021.

“So far, the trend continues in 2022,” David Tenembaum, senior actuarial manager for Virginia Farm Bureau Mutual Insurance Co. and DriveSMART Virginia board member, said in a press release.

Between March and June 2020, drivers in Virginia were 50 percent more likely to speed at least 10 mph over the speed limit, compared to the same period in 2019, according to reports from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety. And drivers have not slowed down since 2020.

“These deaths and injuries are especially tragic because they were easily preventable,” Tenembaum said. “Sharing the road, obeying speed limits and buckling up are basic driving skills.”

Study sites reveal that traffic volume fell by a quarter during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown on Virginia’s highways.

“The empty roads probably tempted pandemic-stressed drivers to put the pedal down,” Jessica Cicchino, vice president of research at IIHS, said in a press release. “But information collected since the lockdowns ended and the roads filled back up suggests that risky driving has become the new normal.”

One crash happened every 4.4 minutes in 2021, according to Virginia DMV statistics, including 161 injuries and 2.7 lives lost each day on Virginia highways. Across the United States, traffic fatalities increased 7 percent in 2020 in spite of the decrease in miles driven by Americans. Large increases in fatalities were attributed to alcohol, speeding and vehicle occupants not wearing seatbelts, according to the National Highway Traffic Administration. As miles increased in 2021, drivers continued these behaviors.

“With nearly 43,000 lives lost on U.S. roadways last year, we can’t accept this increase in dangerous driving behaviors,” Cicchino said in a press release. “We need to double down on implementing proven solutions that have been shown to prevent speeding, like automated speed enforcement and road designs that slow traffic.”

For more information, visit drivesmartva.org.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.