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RUCKERSVILLE—Governor Ralph Northam today proclaimed April as Highway Safety Month in the Commonwealth of Virginia. While the total number of crash deaths in Virginia was down in 2018, pedestrian fatalities in the Commonwealth were at a ten-year high. Governor Northam is calling attention to the rise in pedestrian casualties in the Commonwealth and nationwide to elevate awareness of dangerous behaviors and help save lives.
In 2018, 123 pedestrians were killed in crashes in Virginia, a nearly 62-percent increase over the number of deaths (76) reported 10 years ago in 2008.
“I am encouraged that, overall, crash deaths are down in the Commonwealth, but we still have a lot of work to do, particularly when it comes to reducing pedestrian fatalities,” said Governor Northam. “Whether crossing the street or behind the wheel, each of us has a responsibility to engage in behavior that will make our roads safer for everyone. Highway Safety Month is a tremendous opportunity to bring a renewed focus to our efforts to save lives and move closer to our goal of achieving zero deaths on Virginia’s roadways.”
Speaking at an event at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Vehicle Research Center (IIHS) in Ruckersville, Governor Northam called upon members of his Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety to help elevate the importance of pedestrian safety. Comprised of representatives from the Virginia Departments of Motor Vehicles (DMV), Transportation (VDOT), Health, Education and State Police, and led by the Secretaries of Transportation and Public Safety and Homeland Security, the team is charged with reducing fatalities on Virginia’s roadways and driving change in the Commonwealth’s highway safety culture.
“We all have a role to play in protecting pedestrians on our roadways because, at some point in our day, we all are pedestrians,” said Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran. “As drivers, we can help by following posted speed limits, staying alert, and scanning the roadway for walkers and bicyclists. As pedestrians, we can make a concerted effort to use crosswalks when available and focus on our walk rather than our phone. It’s also good advice to lock eyes with a driver before you cross the street. Just because you see someone, doesn’t mean they see you.”
The average number of pedestrian fatalities over the past 10 years was 93 deaths per year, although half of the years in this time frame reported fatality numbers in the 70s. The decade-low number of pedestrian fatalities was 73 in 2009; the previous decade high was 121 in 2016. In 2017, 114 pedestrians were killed.
“Pedestrian fatalities dramatically increased in 2016 and, tragically, have remained at a higher-than-average rate each year since,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine. “But, as the families and friends who have lost loved ones know far too well, one death is too many.”
At today’s event, Governor Northam watched as IIHS demonstrated technology on new vehicles that can prevent collisions with pedestrians and conducted a side impact crash test of a 2019 Mazda 3. IIHS is an independent, nonprofit scientific and educational organization dedicated to reducing the losses—deaths, injuries, and property damages—from motor vehicle crashes.
“Advances in vehicle technology will play a key role in helping us to reduce the number of pedestrians killed on our roadways,” said IIHS President David Harkey. “For example, IIHS is testing automatic emergency braking systems that can detect and brake for people on foot. When effectively implemented, these autobrake systems are an important safety measure that our testing shows will prevent injuries and save lives.”
Throughout the month, the Governor’s Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety will launch a variety of campaigns, both as a group and as individual agencies, on important issues such as Work Zone Awareness, Toward Zero Deaths and distracted driving. To stay up-to-date, follow the hashtag #VAHwySafety on Facebook and Twitter. Later this month, the Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety will announce the results of the #YourSayVA Digital Town Hall on distracted driving. Of the more than 2,000 survey respondents, more than 93 percent agreed that distracted driving is a serious safety issue in Virginia.
Last week, Governor Northam announced an amendment to Senate Bill 1768, which in its current form would prohibit drivers from holding a communications device in highway work zones. The Governor’s proposed amendments would expand this hands-free legislation to be a statewide law.
These amendments direct the state to annually report on all citations issued pursuant to this act as well as the relevant demographic data of each person cited to ensure that this law is enforced appropriately. Additionally, these amendments direct various organizations—including DRIVE SMART Virginia and the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police—to develop training and educational materials for law enforcement agencies and the public.
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