Local traffic fatalities up. Here’s how crashes in Va. and Md. differ

WASHINGTON — This year saw a spike in the number of fatal crashes on Virginia’s roads and recent years have also seen a smaller increase in Maryland.

But the kind of roads where these crashes occur are drastically different in the two states.

Nationally, 56 percent of all fatal crashes occur on what would be considered rural roads. In Virginia, that number is higher, especially in recent years.

“In Virginia, in 2016 alone, there were 760 fatal crashes. Of that number, 62.7 percent occurred on rural roadways,” said AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman John Townsend.

Over the last decade, that number is slightly under 60 percent.

“And you see almost the reverse in the state of Maryland,” Townsend said. “77.8 percent occurred on urban roadways.”

“It’s a function of the size of the state, and the state is much more compact than Virginia,” Townsend said.

Roughly 80 percent of all miles driven in the state of Maryland are racked up in the Baltimore-Washington corridor.

Townsend said that “urban roads are more forgiving,” noting that along busier highways in more urban environments roads tend to be wider and have guardrails. The fact that these roads have more cars on them also tends to slow people down.

On the flip side, rural roads are more narrow and winding with less traffic. They present hazards for drivers traveling at unsafe speeds.

Virginia has a lot of those roads.

Of the nearly 75,000 miles of roads in Virginia, more than two-thirds of them qualify as rural.

The sheer expanse of the state means if you laid out all the rural roadways that connect various small towns, it would run about 19,000 miles longer than the combination of every road in the state of Maryland, both urban and rural.

With 2017 winding down, the state is also on the way to having one of its deadliest years on the road in a decade. Heading into the month of December, 2017 saw 815 fatalities on the roads of Virginia, over 100 more than it had in all of last year, and a number not seen since before 2010.

In 2008, there were 825 deaths on the road in Virginia, and in 2007 more than a thousand people died in motor vehicle crashes.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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