Traffic Fatalities on the rise in Suffolk, Statewide

Published 6:54 pm Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Although Americans are driving fewer miles per capita than they were prior to the pandemic’s onset, U.S. roads are deadlier than ever.

Mirroring state and nationwide trends over the past three years, traffic fatalities increased in Suffolk between 2020 and 2021. Risky driving behaviors and increased travel on more hazardous rural roads have highway safety experts concerned.

Suffolk Police Department Major Cassandra Garvin of the attested to the salience of this issue locally.

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Although overall vehicle miles driven are down, Garvin said her department is witnessing “worse driving overall.”

Despite a slight drop in overall collisions and fatalities between 2019 and 2020, these figures increased in 2021.

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles Traffic Crash Stats shows collisions increased from 1,507 to 1,748 in 2021, and fatalities from eight to 13. This equates to a rate of .19 fatalities per 1000 motorists, which is above the statewide average of .16.

Crashes involving injuries also increased from 1,002 in 2020, to 1,225 last year.

Highway safety experts have several theories to explain the rise in fatalities, chief among them dangerous driving behaviors.

Speeding is on the rise in Virginia according to the aforementioned DMV data, with speed-related fatalities up 9.6% from 2020. Furthermore, impaired driving continues to play a major role in highway deaths. The average blood alcohol level of drivers arrested for DUI was an astounding .155 in 2021, nearly twice the permissible limit.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency (NHTSA) corroborates Suffolk and Virginia’s findings on a national scale. On the speeding front, both the slowest and fastest motorists increased their speeds in 2021. By the summer of 2021, urban and rural freeway speeds topped 65 and 70 miles per hour, respectively. These figures coincided with an increase in vehicle miles traveled, albeit not to 2019 levels. Nonetheless, increased speeds coupled with more drivers on the road is a recipe for more collisions and deaths.

Speeding is a major factor behind Suffolk’s increased collisions and fatalities, according to Garvin.

“We have written more speeding tickets and seen higher overall speeds, along with an increase in reckless driving,” the SPD major said.

Her advice to area motorists is simple —  slow down, drive sober and put the phone away.

“Impaired driving, distracted driving, and speeding are the three biggest threats to road safety,” Garvin said.

Assuming that existing trends will continue nationally, experts also believe the roads drivers travel on play a key role in determining their safety. Rural roads have long been perceived as more dangerous than their urban counterparts. Factors such as less traffic, which incentivizes speeding, play a role in their heightened danger. While urban vehicle miles traveled declined during the first year of the pandemic, presumably due to fewer commuters, the share of miles driven on “rural arterial” roadways increased from 27.09% to 27.76%, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

Pedestrian deaths

This period has been equally deadly for the most vulnerable of road users — pedestrians. Pedestrian fatalities in Virginia rose by 9.7% from 2020 to 2021. According to the Virginia DMV, these deaths are most frequent in two locales — rural roadways and uncontrolled crossing points, where drivers are less likely to expect a pedestrian in the roadway.