With strong programs emphasizing safety, education, and infrastructure maintenance, Virginia has consistently maintained a traffic fatality rate below the national average. In 2015, the state ranked 14th 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 2015 rate of 9.0 fatalities per 100,000 population was lower than the national average of 10.9 and again gives Virginia the 14th lowest fatality rate in the nation. This rate was also lower than two peer states, North Carolina (13.7) and Tennessee (14.5), but higher than Maryland (8.5). Rhode Island had the lowest fatality rate in the country in 2015, at 4.3 deaths per 100,000 people.
Within Virginia, the Northern and Hampton Roads regions consistently have the lowest rates of traffic fatalities per 100,000 people; in 2015, these rates were 4.1 and 6.9, respectively. The Southside region had the highest rate of fatalities with 24.4 per 100,000 population. The actual number of annual traffic fatalities in Virginia was 753 in 2015, a increase from 703 the previous year.
Alcohol clearly influences Virginia's traffic fatality rate. Alcohol-related deaths as a percentage of total crash fatalities dropped in 2014 to 36.0 percent (from 43.6 percent in 2013). Even when using 3-year averages, there is wide variation in the rate of alcohol-related traffic deaths among Virginia's regions -- and also from year to year. In 2014, the Southside region had the highest rate per 100,000 people (8.9) of fatalities that were related to alcohol, while the Northern region had the lowest, at 1.5 deaths.
What Influences Traffic Fatalities?
Traffic fatalities are influenced by driver behavior, weather, and vehicle safety. As noted above, driving while impaired is a major contributing factor. Sleep deprivation is also a growing concern, especially during long commutes. Use of cell phones, grooming while driving, or disruptive behavior by passengers can also affect driver alertness 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.
Vehicle safety can also 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 these measures are properly installed and properly used.
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:
- Law enforcement 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 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.
- A 3-year moving average calculates the average of the current year value and the previous two years' values.
See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.