Hampton Roads again leads Virginia metro areas in vehicle crashes
Both crashes and traffic fatalities are on the rise
Hampton Roads led all metropolitan areas in Virginia for vehicle crashes in 2022, outstripping Richmond and Northern Virginia during a period of increasing fatal crashes statewide.
The region, which encompasses such cities as Hampton, Norfolk, Chesapeake and Virginia Beach, recorded the highest rate of vehicle crashes in Virginia in 2022, at 1.8 crashes per million vehicle-miles of travel (VMT), according to a February report by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization.
The crash rate eclipses rates in the Roanoke Valley-Alleghany region, with 1.7 crashes per million vehicle-miles of travel; the Richmond region, with 1.63 crashes per million VMT; and Northern Virginia, with 1.41 crashes per million VMT. The data also reflect an uptick in crashes after a statewide decrease during the height of the pandemic in 2020.
“While we haven’t drilled too deeply into the Northern Virginia data, as part of the work we’ve done for our Regional Safety Study, we’ve noticed that speeding and distracted driving have become more prevalent in our region, particularly since the pandemic began,” said Keith Nichols, principal transportation engineer for the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization, in an email to the Mercury. “These are two of the most prevalent causes of crashes in the region, particularly ones with severe outcomes.”
During a Jan. 19 meeting of the HRTPO board, researchers said another factor contributing to the rise in crashes is alcohol use.
Hampton Roads has long been known for its high crash rate, which could be seen more than a decade ago.
Janet Brooking, executive director for nonprofit Drive Smart Virginia, which monitors statewide traffic safety trends, said it’s not unusual for regional traffic statistics to fluctuate. However, she said traffic fatalities appear to be increasing overall. Last year, for example, Virginia had more than 1,000 traffic fatalities for the first time in 15 years.
In 2018, following several years of rising deaths, the annual number of fatal traffic cases dropped briefly to 818, but then continued to escalate to 1,004 traffic fatalities in 2022, according to Virginia Department of Transportation crash data. The state’s annual number of crashes has also increased from 105,589 to 122,430 over the three-year period between 2020 and 2022.
“Although vehicle miles traveled went down significantly in 2020 due to covid restrictions, traffic fatalities in Virginia went up,” Brooking said in an email.
“While we know that crashes and fatalities due to speed increased during COVID, it appears that and other dangerous driving behaviors are here to stay … at least for now,” she continued, adding that some key factors contributing to the increase in fatal crashes are speeding, impaired driving and not wearing a seat belt.
“All three are completely preventable,” Brooking said.
Hampton Roads recorded a fatal crash rate of 1.11 fatalities per 100 million VMT in the three-year period from 2019 to 2021, up 38% from 0.81 fatalities in the 2010 to 2012 time period, according to the region report.
Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization Board members described the fatality report as “startling” during January’s briefing.
Donnie Tuck, then chair of the board, said residents in his community in Hampton had expressed concern about drivers failing to slow down and pedestrians wearing dark clothes at night.
Nichols said the organization is preparing a safety study that will include sections related to regional safety trends, crash characteristics, crash locations, efforts to improve roadway safety, general crash countermeasures and an in-depth analysis of high crash locations. As part of the study, the organization will also conduct public outreach on roadway safety.
“The goal of this effort is to make the area more competitive for receiving federal funds to improve safety, particularly at the high crash locations analyzed in the study,” Nichols wrote. “We are hoping to have the final report approved by our board this fall.”
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