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Advocates say underfunding safety to blame for high pedestrian death count in Fairfax County

Columbia Pike in Bailey’s Crossroads was partially closed after a fatal pedestrian crash in December (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The traffic safety advocacy group Fairfax Families for Safe Streets (Fairfax FSS) says the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) is primarily to blame for Fairfax County’s high pedestrian fatality count last year.

The Safe Streets Report compiled by Fairfax FSS examines the crashes that resulted in 32 pedestrian fatalities and 53 serious injuries in 2022. Like the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles’ (DMV) earlier report, Fairfax FFS found that the county saw a dramatic increase in fatalities and serious injuries last year from any other year going back to 2010 — the first year where data is available.

The median count for pedestrian fatalities in Fairfax County was 13, but there were over twice as many in 2022.

Pedestrian crash fatalities in Fairfax County (image via Fairfax Families for Safe Streets)

Fairfax FSS lays the blame at underfunding for pedestrian-focused projects in its report:

Years of underfunding of critical projects and lack of sufficient attention to pedestrian safety in new projects and development has led to increasing systemic risk for pedestrian safety. Safety is more important than speed. Particular attention is needed to provide safety in identified high risk corridors. While we applaud increased commitment for future funding, the proposed levels are insufficient to reduce today’s risk.

Most of that frustration was directed at VDOT, which controls the majority of the county’s roadways.

According to the report:

The Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT), as the primary agency with authority for road infrastructure design and maintenance throughout Fairfax County, bears significant responsibility for the safety of pedestrians. The high number and increasing trend of pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries indicates that VDOT has not sufficiently prioritized pedestrian safety, lacks an understanding of the current risks to pedestrians, and/or has operationally failed a basic safety responsibility. Fairfax FSS requests VDOT leadership evaluate its culture, organizational structure, and operations to ensure that pedestrian safety is appropriately elevated and integrated throughout VDOT.

The report also said Virginia’s criminal code is too lenient on drivers who crash into and kill pedestrians. Of the 32 pedestrian fatalities in 2022, only five crashes saw the drivers charged with a felony. One case was finalized, with the driver pleading guilty to a misdemeanor. Four others remain pending.

Four drivers were charged with misdemeanors. One was reduced to an infraction, one was found not guilty, and another was abandoned without prosecution. The last case remains pending. One driver was charged with an infraction.

“The report also highlights the lack of consequences in Virginia’s criminal code when drivers who crash into and kill pedestrians (many of whom had the legal right of way in a crosswalk) receive de minimis financial fines, no points and rarely jail time of any sort,” the release said.

Fairfax FSS said local residents should expect more from their local and state elected officials when it comes to pedestrian safety.

“Each pedestrian fatality and serious injury is preventable,” the release said. “Our local and state elected leaders along with transportation officials need to demonstrate a greater level of commitment and urgency in implementing comprehensive and effective solutions. Making greater investment today will save lives tomorrow.”

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