It’s official: 2016 was Rappahannock County’s fourth year in a row with no traffic fatalities.
“Unfortunately, that is not a goal many counties reach, but it’s one that VDOT [Virginia Department of Transportation] and our partner agencies — Virginia State Police, DMV and others — have adopted statewide,” said Stacy Londrey, communications manager for VDOT’s Culpeper District.
“We work together to create a Strategic Highway Safety Plan that focuses on roadway engineering, law enforcement, emergency services and driver education as the four keys to reaching that goal,” she added.
Londrey said that while Rappahannock County’s “smaller population and rural setting certainly contribute to the zero count, other factors such as seatbelt use are equally important.”
Last year in VDOT’s Culpeper District, which includes Rappahannock, Albemarle, Culpeper, Fauquier, Fluvanna, Greene, Madison and Orange counties, two-thirds of those who were killed in car crashes were not wearing seatbelts.
In Rappahannock County over the last five years an average of 143 crashes occurred annually, including about 50 per year that involved injuries. The rest were property damage only, according to VDOT records.
The county’s last traffic fatality occurred in 2012.
In addition to Rappahannock, both Fluvanna and Green counties went without a fatal crash in 2016.
“Unfortunately, fatal crashes have occurred in both of those counties already in January 2017,” said Londrey. “The last time more than one county accomplished the zero goal was in 2009.”
The most prevalent type of fatal crash (50 percent of local fatal crashes) is roadway departure, meaning a vehicle runs off the road and strikes a fixed object such as a tree, fence or structure.
“These crashes are common in our district, and in other rural areas around the state, due to the curved nature of roads. However, speeding and driving drowsy, distracted or under the influence also increase the risk,” Londrey said.
VDOT said it tracks crash data to identify opportunities to make roadway improvements. For instance, to help reduce roadway departure crashes, it is adding rumble strips and/or a “safety edge” that helps to guide a vehicle back onto the roadway.
It is also widening roadway shoulders in troublesome spots, which provides more room for a driver to correct a course.
In addition, VDOT uses crash data to educate motorists and other stakeholders.
“We aim to visit area high schools annually to speak with student drivers about safety, often with local law enforcement participating, and our traffic engineering staff works with local officials to share their county’s crash statistics and gather input, including local knowledge of spots where there are undocumented close calls, for future improvement,” she said.