Data compiled by the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles from 2011 through 2015 identified roadway departures as the most-common cause of fatal crashes on state roads and highways. Running off the side of the road accounted for 49 percent of wrecks in which one or more people died. That type of driver error far outranked the second and third leading causes of entering an intersection improperly and speeding, which, respectively, were cited in 35 percent and 32 percent of deadly wreck during the five-year period.
Speaking with CBS 19 News, VDOT traffic engineer Nathan Umberger defined a roadway departure as “when the vehicle leaves the road and usually tends to run into a tree or telephone pole, what we call fixed objects off the roadway.”
The problem has not improved. An October 6, 2017, news release from the Culpeper District of VDOT notes 53 percent — 21 of 40 — of the traffic deaths in central Virginia this year have resulted from roadway departures.
Roadway departures also endanger the lives and health of pedestrians and other drivers. When drivers do avoid obstacles after running off the road, they often overcorrect their steering in a panicked attempt to return to the pavement. Yanking on the steering wheel often sends a vehicle across multiple lanes and either off the other side of the road or into the path of oncoming traffic. Many head-on collisions start with a roadway departure.
To address this problem, VDOT has worked for years to improve lane dividers and widen the shoulders of rural routes. A key upgrade is placing rumble strips in the center of two-lane highways and along newly paved borders of four-lane routes. Citing the Federal Highway Administration, VDOT’s Culpeper District noted that rumble strips “can reduce … crashes by 30 to 60 percent. Studies show they are most effective with crashes caused by distracted or drowsy driving, reporting a 40 to 80 percent reduction in those crash types.”
Culpeper currently lists the following launch dates for rumble strip operations:
- August, Route 29 from Ruckersville north to the Prince William County line
- October 11, Route 6 in Fluvanna County
- October 11, Route 17 in Fauquier County
- October 11, Route 20 in Albemarle and Orange counties
- October 11, Route 230 in Madison County
- October 11, Route 231 in Madison and Rappahannock counties
- October 11, Route 250 in Fluvanna County
- October 11, Route 522 in Rappahannock County
My Virginia wrongful death and personal injury law firm colleagues support this highway safety improvement effort. Rumble strips can alert drivers of potentially fatal risks before any crisis occurs. At the same time, drivers must take responsibility for slowing down around curves, keeping their eyes and minds on the road, getting enough sleep and rest before taking the wheel, and staying out of the driver’s seat after drinking too much or abusing drugs.