Highway deaths increased by 10 percent nationwide in 2021 compared to a year earlier. Preliminary data shows roadway fatalities in West Virginia are following a similar trend.
Data from the West Virginia Department of Transportation shows highway fatalities in West Virginia increased by five percent in 2021. Though the statistic is considered raw data until confirmed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration this fall, it indicates an increase in roadway deaths that is consistent with the rest of the country.
In an email to WVPB, West Virginia Department of Transportation director Jennifer Dooley says the biggest increase in fatalities involved collisions with pedestrians. The department says it is planning on focusing resources to prevent further crashes with its Strategic Highway Safety Plan over the next five years.
Governor’s Highway Safety Program (GHSP) representative Aimee Cantrell says behavioral trends during COVID-19 may explain this increase. Speeding incidents rose during the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, when there was a lower amount of traffic.
“That sometimes gives people this sense that it’s okay to drive distracted or to drive faster than the posted speed limit, or a couple of other things that really are never true,” Cantrell said.
Cantrell reminds drivers to remember the basics of driving and practice safety measures to either prevent or lessen the impact of a crash. These measures include proper seat belt usage, no cell phone usage while driving, and remaining parked and off the road while putting information into a GPS.
Though the number has increased within the past year, West Virginia has seen a downward trend in fatalities over the past decade. Highway deaths have decreased by more than 15 percent since 2011. Cantrell credits this trend to West Virginia’s seat belt law, which was made a primary offense in 2013.
“We have consistently been trending downward in those fatalities, which is a great thing,” Cantrell said. “It is our mission and goal to decrease injuries and fatalities due to crashes. Our ultimate target is zero deaths on our roads, so that takes the cooperation of all drivers and road users.”
The GHSP is currently working with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s “Click It or Ticket” campaign this Memorial Day season to remind drivers to wear their seatbelts.