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Editorial: Traffic deaths keep climbing

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Crash site

A memorial at the site of a fatal crash on Interstate 81 in Botetourt County. A truck driver who was nearing the end of his legal drive time couldn’t find a legal place to park and so pulled his truck onto the shoulder of the entrance lane to the Troutville rest area, his lawyer has said. A pickup truck ran off the right side of the highway and struck the back of the truck, then spun back into traffic and was hit by a truck. The pickup’s driver, Michael Kreul, was killed.

Cars are safer today than at any time in automotive history.

Active-safety features like blind side monitoring, rear cross traffic alert, and crash prevention systems that apply the brakes when a potential collision is detected are designed to stop wrecks before they occur.

Passive-safety features like backup cameras and seatbelts also play a role in preventing accidents and protecting passengers when accidents happen.

Significant energy absorption innovations offer additional protection to drivers and passengers involved in collisions.

The person driving the car, however, is still the most important variable in automotive safety. And drivers continue to fail in their responsibility.

Our Feb. 22 editorial [“It’s time to take the edge off driving”] noted the disturbing rise in traffic fatalities in 2021 over 2020. Two factors we explored then were aggressive driving and road rage.

The Virginia DMV released a report on April 19 that showed, unfortunately, the danger to passengers and drivers on our roadways aren’t slowing.

Overall, traffic fatalities were up 14% in 2021 over 2022.

So far this year, the DMV reports, 245 people have died in auto wrecks on Virginia roadways. That’s 12% over the same period in 2021.

Not all the news is bad. The number of fatalities due to people not wearing seat belts, alcohol use, and distracted driving are down.

We are seeing surges, however, in driving fatalities involving teenagers (up 55.6%), bicycles (up 100%), motorcycle fatalities (up 17.2%) and speed-related fatalities (up 9.6%).

Preventing these deaths comes back to some simple mantras: slow down. Keep plenty of distance between you and the car in front. Share the road.

There are some practical things, however, that the state can do.

Invest more in education about cyclists and pedestrians: The Bike League’s 2022 report card on the states that are most friendly to bicyclists ranks Virginia a very good No. 7 (Washington State is No. 1). It credits the General Assembly with passing a number of laws to improve safety, and celebrates the number of riding spaces created. However, the state could do a better job on the education side. It’s an inexpensive way to bring down fatalities.

Reexamine the minimum driving age: For several years, there has been a national discussion about whether 16 is too young to allow people to begin driving alone. Given the sharp spike in teen driving deaths, the state should at least take a look at raising the age. It’s a complicated issue with no clear-cut answer, but the debate is worth having.

Address bad driving: Efforts to rank Virginias drivers against other states’ vary a good bit. Quotewizard, an insurance group, ranks Virginia as the 7th worst state in the nation to drive in. Bankrate puts us at 27. Regardless, it isn’t good. Constantly educating drivers and enforcing existing traffic laws are never bad things to do. Especially since speed continues to drive the growing number of fatalities.

Until fully self-driving cars control the roads—and we’re many years from even imagining that one—the best way to keep everyone safe is to make sure drivers do their part.

There’s plenty of time this year to drive down the number of fatalities, Virginia. Whether we do comes down to each person who climbs behind the wheel.

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