In October 2021, United States Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced their early estimate of Motor Vehicle Traffic Fatalities for the First Half of 2021. This data showed the largest six-month increase ever recorded in USDOT's Fatality Analysis Reporting System history (since 1975). USDOT estimated that 20,160 people died in car accidents between January – June of 2021. This represented a jump of 18.4% over the same period in 2020, and extended a worrisome trend from 2020 when traffic fatalities were also up in the 2nd half of that year. During that period, June – December 2020, collision-related deaths increased by 13.3%. Sadly, despite the reduced vehicle travel in the first year of the pandemic, 38,000 total people died in car crashes on U.S. roads in 2020.
On February 1, 2022, USDOT updated its estimate of traffic fatalities for the first nine-months of 2021 with more bad news. Although the rate of traffic deaths went down in third quarter 2020 compared to the first two quarters of 2021, it still increased by 3.9% over 2020's 3rd quarter. This also represents a 17.5% increase over the number of people dying on in accidents on U.S. roads in the 3rd quarter of 2019.
Why are so many people dying on America's roadways? Pete Buttigieg, Transportation Secretary, recently announced a new USDOT initiative to help eliminate roadway fatalities by addressing safety in road design, vehicle design, speed limits, post-crash medical care and human behavior. USDOT hopes to change emphasis from only improving human behavior to include money for improving safety of the roads that we drive on and the vehicles we drive.
While this emphasis on roadways, vehicles and emergency medicine may help with some outcomes, human behavior remains a key part of the equation that every driver can help solve. Many of us, myself included, fall into bad habits that make us unsafe drivers. We drive tired. We drive angry. We drive distracted. We need to break these bad habits so we don't endanger ourselves and others through our driving.
If you need a refresher on how to drive defensively, it is worth rereading the Rules of the Road to remind you what your rights and duties are as a driver in Virginia. If you are a parent with a child about to start driving, the Virginia Department of Education provides a 45-Hour Parent / Teen Driving Guide to help you teach your child how to drive safely and respect the rules of the road while they have their learner's permit.
If you are an aggressive driver, take a deep breath before driving. Calm down. Remember that the drivers of other vehicles are human beings dealing with their own stressors. This is, sometimes, especially hard in Northern Virginia because of the large population and high numbers of out-of-state drivers on unfamiliar roads. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that everyone is trying to get to their final destination as safely as possible.
When driving, you can help reduce the dangerousness of our roadways by:
- Put down your cellphone and paying attention to what is going on around you. We all know these people. We've all been these people. Put down your phone and focus on driving. Just by paying attention you'll be more likely to go when it is your turn. You'll be more likely to signal your intentions. And you'll be more likely to see hazards on the roadway with time to avoid them. This will keep you and everyone around you safer than if you are texting, tik-toking, or reading the news while driving.
- Move over. Virginia Code Section 46.2-842.1 states that slower traffic “shall” yield the right-of-way to faster traffic approaching from behind by moving over to the right as soon as it is safe to do so. In other words, you can get a ticket for failing to get out of the way for faster moving traffic behind you. You also have a duty to move a lane to the left if you are approaching a police or emergency vehicle stopped on the side of the road. And it is always friendly to move a lane to the left if you see a disabled vehicle on the shoulder.
- Slow down. High speed collisions in residential areas, highway traffic safety corridors, work zones, school zones and other high population areas often result in catastrophic injury and loss of life; there is no good reason to speed in these areas. On highways and interstates, the risks are different, but the result is the same: high speed collisions can lead to catastrophic injury and loss of life. Slow down. Leave fifteen minutes early to give yourself time in the event of traffic pitfalls. Below is a chart from Virginia DMV that shows stopping distances from various speeds.
- Share the road. Pedestrians, bicycles, electric scooters, mopeds, and motorcycles. All types of people use the road every day. They all have a right to do so as long as they are not intentionally interfering with the orderly flow of traffic. Drive slow in residential neighborhoods and cities so you have time to see, and give room to, people on the road.
- Wear Your Seatbelt. Make sure your passengers are wearing their seatbelts too. This is the single most important thing you can do to keep yourself and your passengers safe in the event of a collision.
- Don't drive under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
If you've been involved in a collision, get to a doctor or emergency room, then call this firm right away (703-684-7908) to let us help you protect your rights.