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VA criticized for lax highway safety laws, yet fatalities continue to decline

Authored by Donald S. Culkin.

According to an advocacy group known as the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, Virginia is among the nine worst states for highway safety laws.  Even so, Virginia continues to see fewer and fewer traffic fatalities.  The Virginia Highway Safety Office (VAHSO) reports that Virginia had 821 traffic fatalities in 2008, the fewest since 1966.  VAHSO also reports that fatalities through the first eleven months of 2009 declined13 percent compared to the same period in 2008.

Numerous factors have caused fatalities to decline nationwide, including better vehicle safety standards and improved highway design.  Former Governor Timothy Kaine, however, gives some of the credit to improvements at the state level.

“It’s clear that our coordinated efforts, and the increased use of seat belts, are having a positive effect on the number of traffic deaths in Virginia,” the Governor said, “While I am gratified to see our efforts paying off, we must continue to be vigilant and careful to ensure that this trend continues.”

Increased seat belt use is undoubtedly one reason for the decline in traffic deaths.  A study conducted by VAHSO in May 2009 found that seat belt use in Virginia was 83 percent, the highest ever recorded in the state.  The increase in seat belt use might be explained in part by increased seat belt law enforcement through the Click It or Ticket program which some say is the most successful seat belt enforcement program ever. The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety probably agree with that assessment, but say that we can do better.

The trend toward fewer fatalities is a remarkable accomplishment given the explosive growth in traffic volumes since 1966, but we still have about two deaths per day on Virginia highways.  It is worth considering whether Virginia should try to reduce the number ever further through more the adoption and enforcement of more aggressive highway safety laws. Visit the following links for more information:

Decline in traffic fatalities article in VA Lawyers Weekly

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety report (pdf)

Click it or Ticket NHTSA.gov