Northam establishes group to tackle rising highway deaths

Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Gov. Ralph Northam established the Executive Leadership Team on Highway Safety Tuesday, a group of state officials that will work to reduce the rising number of deaths on Virginia’s roads.

“Nearly every crash is preventable and it’s important that we focus on altering the behaviors that threaten the safety of the citizens who use our roads every day,” Northam said in a statement. “The Executive Leadership Team will work proactively to drive a positive traffic safety culture in Virginia.”

To start, the new team is collecting survey responses about the highway safety issues residents are most concerned about, Northam said.

“By participating in the digital town hall, Virginians can share their thoughts on important highway safety issues, particularly distracted driving, directly with Virginia decision makers,” said Brian Moran, secretary of public safety. “You drive our roads every day. Tell us the unsafe driving behaviors you have witnessed and how we can encourage drivers to ditch distraction and stay focused on the road.”

There were 843 deaths on Virginia roadways in 2017, a 20 percent increase from 2014, when there were 700, according to Northam’s directive.

Most of the 2017 accidents were because of speed, and the number of 15-to-20-year-olds who died not wearing seatbelts doubled this year compared to the same six-month period last year.

“Those who work in transportation and public safety view every crash as preventable and are committed to the vision of zero fatalities on our roadways,” the directive stated.

The deputy secretaries of transportation and public safety will co-chair the group, which will include officials from the departments of Motor Vehicles, Transportation, Health, Education and the Virginia State Police.