With strong programs emphasizing safety, education, and infrastructure maintenance, Virginia has consistently maintained a traffic fatality rate below the national average. In 2011, the state ranked 20th best in the nation.
Why is This Important?
Traffic fatalities are a leading cause of death, especially for young people between the ages of four and 34. The years of life lost as a result of these terrible events make their social costs particularly high, especially since many of these losses could have been prevented.
How is Virginia Doing?
Virginia's 2011 rate of 9.4 fatalities per 100,000 population was lower than the national average of 10.4 and gives Virginia the 20th lowest fatality rate in the nation. This rate was also lower than two peer states, North Carolina (12.7) and Tennessee (14.8), though higher than Maryland (8.3). Massachusetts again had the lowest fatality rate in the country at 5.1 per 100,000 people.
Within Virginia, the Northern and Hampton Roads regions again had the lowest rates of traffic fatalities per 100,000 people in 2011, with rates at 4.9 and 8.1, respectively. The Southwest region had the highest rate of fatalities with 20.0 per 100,000 residents. The actual number of annual traffic fatalities in Virginia has declined from 913 in 2002 to 764 in 2011.
Alcohol clearly influences Virginia's traffic fatality rate, although -- except for a large uptick in 2008 -- alcohol-related deaths as a percent of total crash fatalities have largely remained steady. In 2002, 37.6 percent of the crash fatalities involved alcohol; in 2011, 35.9 percent did. The Eastern region (55.2%) had the highest percent of fatalities that were related to alcohol in 2011, while the Northern region had the lowest -- 27.8 percent.
What Influences Traffic Fatalities?
Traffic fatalities are influenced by driver behavior, environmental factors, and vehicle safety. As noted above, driving while impaired is a major contributing factor. A growing concern is the impact of sleep deprivation on driver alertness, especially for persons driving over long periods of time. Use of cell phones, grooming while driving, or disruptive behavior by passengers can also affect driver attention and response time. Age is another possible factor. Young drivers may lack the skills and experience to anticipate or adjust to traffic problems appropriately. Senior drivers are less able to react quickly to sudden traffic situations, particularly at intersections.
Environmental conditions also contribute to traffic fatalities. Weather like heavy rain, sleet, and snow increase the hazards of driving, as do roads in disrepair. Maintaining safe driving speeds is also critical.
Finally, vehicle safety can play a large role. Seat belts, car seats for small children, and passive restraint systems such as air bags have all improved auto safety. However, drivers must still ensure that passengers use seat belts and car seats and that air bags are properly installed.
What is the State's Role?
While driver behavior has a major impact on traffic safety, the state does play a critical and wide-ranging role in preventing traffic fatalities:
- Numerous state agencies and local partners work to reduce substance abuse and drunk driving.
- Law enforcement gives assistance to motorists and works to reduce speeding, drunk driving, and aggressive driving.
- Motor vehicle inspections help to ensure the safe mechanical operation of vehicles.
- Transportation workers plan and maintain Virginia's roads and alert drivers to road hazards.
- Health campaigns raise awareness of good driver and passenger behavior, and offer child safety seats to those who cannot afford them; many localities offer free inspections to ensure that child safety seats are properly installed.
- State agencies and public and private schools are involved in driver training and safe driving awareness.
- State laws set speed limits; they also target impaired and over-agressive driving, excessive speed, and vehicle safety and restraint.
State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.
Data Definitions and Sources
Traffic fatality data downloaded from U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, National Center for Statistics & Analysis, Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), Web-Based Encyclopedia: www-fars.nhtsa.dot.gov/Main/index.aspx
Additional data from U.S. Department of Transportation, National Highway Safety Administration "Traffic Safety Facts 2004."
- A traffic fatality is defined as a fatal injury resulting from a road vehicle accident. This is recorded as the underlying cause of death in the medical certification part of the death certificate.
- An alcohol-related crash fatality is defined as a death resulting from a crash involving a driver with a blood alcohol concentration of .01 or greater.
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.