Ensuring the safety of all road users should be a year-round commitment for all motorists, a point that’s being emphasized during Bicyclist and Pedestrian Awareness Month in September.
The annual observance in Virginia serves as a reminder for motorists and pedestrians to look out for others and share the responsibilities of roadway safety.
According to Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles crash data from 2020, the number of accidents and fatalities significantly decreased last year from record-high totals in 2019.
In 2020, there were 1,242 accidents and 114 fatalities involving pedestrians, down from 1,896 accidents and 126 fatalities in 2019. Additionally, there were 560 cyclist-involved accidents and eight fatalities, down from 754 and 13, respectively.
John Saunders, director of highway safety for Virginia DMV, considers last year’s decreases in accidents and fatalities a hollow victory. He noted that even though travel was restricted for several months during the COVID-19 pandemic, 122 people needlessly lost their lives on Virginia roadways.
“Numbers are one thing, but when these lives are lost, it’s also the families that are impacted when [individuals] lose their lives on roadways as pedestrians and bicyclists,” Saunders said.
“We should be doing all the things we need to be doing to be responsible drivers, and definitely not driving distracted or impaired,” he added. “And, we need to slow down, and take our time.”
According to additional Virginia DMV data, pedestrian-involved accidents and fatalities are on track to decrease again in 2021, as are the number of cyclist-involved accidents.
However, through July, the number of bicyclist fatalities this year already has increased to 11.
To stress the continued importance of sharing Virginia’s roadways safely, Drive Smart Virginia—of which Virginia Farm Bureau is a founding member—is promoting its “See and Be Seen” campaign.
The campaign advocates for motorists to drive distraction-free and to be aware of other road users. The initiative also urges bicyclists and pedestrians to avoid distractions, increase their visibility by wearing bright and reflective clothing, use flashlights and bike lights, and obey traffic laws.
Virginia law requires drivers to maintain a 3-foot distance from pedestrians and bicyclists on the state’s roadways. When sharing the road with vehicles, cyclists should ride with traffic, and pedestrians should walk facing traffic.
Drivers also are required to yield the right of way to pedestrians at any clearly marked crosswalks and at intersections where the legal maximum speed doesn’t exceed 35 mph.
Motorists also must yield in extensions of sidewalk boundaries at the end of a block.