Virginia pedestrian deaths in 2019 nears last year’s total

December 17, 2019 GMT

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — On a Friday night in October, Katelyn Tilts was walking to a

convenience store with a group of friends when she saw headlights coming at her.

“A car came around the corner really quickly and was swerving. The driver was swerving

but started going directly at me and hit me head-on,” Tilts later told WTVR. “I remember

thinking that it hurt so bad that I didn’t know how I would be able to make it until the ambulance

got there.”

The hit-and-run incident left Tilts, a freshman at Virginia Commonwealth University,

hospitalized and on crutches. She survived, but many pedestrians hit by vehicles do not.

According to data from the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Department of

Motor Vehicles, 123 pedestrians died on the state’s roads in 2018 — the highest death toll in 10

years. 2019 also has been deadly: As of mid-December, 112 pedestrians have been killed in

traffic accidents in the commonwealth.

Not only are more pedestrians being killed, but they also are making up a greater

proportion of all traffic fatalities:

 In 2015, 10% of the people killed in roadway accidents in Virginia were pedestrians.

 That figure jumped to 16% the following year. Last year, it was 15%, according to

VDOT and DMV data.

“The vast, overwhelming majority of people who die on our streets are killed by drivers

of cars,” noted Ross Catrow, executive director of RVA Rapid Transit, an advocacy group for

regional public transportation.

“And the further sad truth is that these deaths and serious injuries often go unnoticed,

underreported, and, even worse, usually nothing is done to build better streets and make them

safer for people,” Catrow wrote on Streets Cred, his website about urban issues affecting mid-

sized American cities.

Catrow has pointed out that some people say pedestrians are at fault for the rising number

of traffic accidents. He rejects that notion.

“I’m so ultra-tired of engineers, elected officials and everyone else blaming ’distracted

pedestrians’ for the increase in injuries on our roads,” he said on his “Good Morning, RVA”


Catrow advocates traffic-calming measures such as painted curb bulbs and posts that can

narrow intersections, increase visibility and slow down drivers to prevent pedestrian accidents.

Some people blame elderly drivers for causing accidents. But 25% of the motorists

involved in traffic accidents that have killed pedestrians since 2013 were in their 20s — and half

of them were under 40. About 22% of the drivers involved in pedestrian fatalities were 60 and


Ralph Aronberg, a traffic engineer consultant in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, said some

people in their early 20s have poor driving habits.

“Drivers in that age group are more likely to use social media such as Instagram on their

cellphone, are more likely to have groups in vehicles leading to distractions and are less likely to

realize the consequences of taking their eyes off the road,” he said.

Aronberg, whose firm focuses on accident reconstructions, said people in their early 20s

are also more likely to drive at night, drink and drive, or be under the influence of THC or other

mind-altering substances while operating a car.

Pedestrians killed in traffic accidents in Virginia since 2013 have ranged in age from

infants to 96. About a third of the victims were under 30; slightly over a third in their 40s and

50s; and the rest 60 or older.

Since 2013, Fairfax has had the most pedestrian deaths — more than 80, according to

VDOT data. Then come Henrico County (43), Norfolk (40), Richmond (31) and Newport News


The roads with the most pedestrian fatalities during that time period were:

 Jefferson Avenue, Newport News — seven

 Route 11, Washington County — three

 South Street, Front Royal — three

 Southbound Route 288, Goochland County — three

 Chamberlayne Avenue, Richmond — three

Weather was not a factor in most pedestrian deaths.

“Most vehicle-pedestrian accidents happen in good weather,” said Daniel Vomhof, a

traffic safety expert in California and a member of the Accreditation Commission for Traffic

Accident Reconstructionists.

More than 85% of the pedestrian fatalities in Virginia happened in clear or cloudy

weather conditions, the VDOT data showed. About 13% occurred in rain, mist or fog, and 1% in

snowy weather.

To stay safe, Vomhof recommends that pedestrians wear white or reflective shoes at

night and light-colored clothing that doesn’t blend in with the surroundings.

“Visibility increases when the object is in eye contrast to the background,” Vomhof said.