Over the past year and a half I have had the privilege to serve as Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety. During this time, I have witnessed first-hand the tremendously dangerous and challenging work of those providing law enforcement and highway safety services throughout our Commonwealth. I have also witnessed the tragedy associated with the line of duty deaths and serious injuries that accompany this dangerous work.
Since Jan. 1, 2010, seven dedicated law enforcement professionals have made the ultimate sacrifice while performing their duties to keep Virginians safe. Every day troopers, deputies, and officers across the Commonwealth put themselves in harm’s way to keep our cities, counties and towns safe. Statistically, one of the most dangerous responsibilities is enforcing traffic laws and identifying and removing dangerous drivers from our roadways. In 2010 alone, five Virginia State Troopers were struck while conducting traffic stops.
Virginia enacted the “Move Over” law to protect emergency personnel while they make our highways safer and aid citizens in distress. This law, as amended in 2010, mandates that motorists change lanes, if it is safe to do so, when approaching emergency vehicles that are displaying red or blue lights; or tow trucks, motorist assistance vehicles and highway maintenance vehicles displaying amber-colored flashing lights. This action provides room for law enforcement and emergency personnel to do their job safely. Additionally, if unable to change lanes, drivers are directed to proceed with caution.
Virginia’s law enforcement community has been working very hard to make our interstates, highways and streets safe for all motorists. These efforts have made a difference and Virginia is safer because of them.
In fact, for two consecutive years we have had historically low numbers in highway traffic fatalities in Virginia. Statistics show the lowest number of deaths in the past 50 years. In 2008, there were 821 deaths on Virginia highways. In 2009, that number dropped to 756. In 2010, the number reached a record low of 740 fatalities.
This reduction in fatalities is even more significant when it is viewed in context. Virginia has seen an increase in miles driven, registered vehicles, and licensed drivers on our highways. In 2010, there were 5,569,524 licensed drivers. This represents a 1.2 percent increase from 2009. Additionally, in 2010 Virginia had 7,565,848 registered vehicles, which was a 1 percent increase from 2009. In 2010, drivers traveled an estimated 82.4 billion miles on our highways, placing an unprecedented demand on our law enforcement, emergency services and Virginia Department of Transportation resources.
While the reduction in fatalities is certainly positive and very worthy of praise, it still means that 740 families mourned the death of loved ones last year—a toll that is unacceptable under any standard. The saddest part of this is that most of these deaths can be prevented if drivers simply take responsibility and practice safe driving habits.
Virginia’s law enforcement community will continue to actively enforce the laws which make our roads safer. We will continue and expand federal, state and local partnerships, as well as effective enforcement programs and initiatives. Virginia’s enforcement programs combine the resources of many agencies to create public awareness and strictly enforce traffic laws while reducing or eliminating many of the driving behaviors that threaten the safety of everyone on the road.
However, law enforcement is only part of the equation. To truly save lives — including their own — drivers must be proactive and do some simple things –
- Drive drug-free and alcohol free
- Buckle up
- Avoid distractions, such as hands-on cell phones and texting
- Share the road and stay in your lane
- Move over for emergency vehicles
- Obey speed limits
As the summer comes to an end and we celebrate Labor Day, I encourage all who use Virginia’s roadways to assist our law enforcement professionals to ensure that everyone gets home safely every time they get in a vehicle. Help us protect the dedicated law enforcement and highway safety professionals who risk their lives on a daily basis by “moving over” and giving them room to work. Additionally, I urge all drivers to follow the simple safety tips we all know by heart. Finally, please join me in thanking law enforcement for the difficult job they do each day to keep us all safe.
Marla Graff Decker
Secretary of Public Safety