Heading into the nighttime hours of New Year's Eve, once one of the deadliest nights of the year to be on the road, traffic fatalities are on track to decline in the nation’s capital during 2014. All told 26 persons, including at least five pedestrians, two motorcyclists, a cyclist, and a highway construction worker, lost their lives on the streets of the District of Columbia during the year. That is as of Dec. 24, 2014, according to preliminary statistics from the Metropolitan Police Department. Year over year, it compares to 27 traffic-related deaths in the city during 2013. Annually, it comprises a 3.7% decline in the city’s traffic fatality rate.
Yet it doesn’t diminish the pain of dozens of families during the year who received that fateful knock on the door to notify them of the tragic loss of a loved one in a motor vehicle-related accident in the District. “One of the 2014 traffic fatalities is from a crash that occurred on Park Police territory (Rock Creek Parkway) on June 22, 2014,” explains the MPD. In contrast, 19 traffic deaths were reported in Washington, D.C. proper during 2012, and 32 persons perished in traffic crashes in the city in 2011. Back in 2001, a total of 72 traffic fatalities occurred in the city.
Historically, traffic deaths in the city declined by almost 65 percentage points from 2001 to 2014, that is, with just a day left to go in this calendar year. Traffic mortalities have dropped in the District during the past decade or so due to more law enforcement efforts, including the deployment of more automated traffic enforcement cameras, a greater emphasis on pedestrian and cyclist safety in traffic safety campaigns, safer cars, and fewer miles driven, observes AAA Mid-Atlantic. Statistically, “a motor vehicle injury occurs every 14 seconds in the U.S.” That tally includes pedestrians and cyclists in the District of Columbia, according to Struck In DC.
“Despite the slight numerical reduction in traffic deaths in the city in 2014, the downward trend line is still disturbing to the bereaved family members or survivors of fatal traffic crash victims and to traffic safety advocates because just one traffic death is yet one too many,” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “On average 82 traffic crashes occur each day in the District and the consequences can be deadly.”
Locally, a 34-year-old highway construction worker was killed during a bizarre incident at 11:25 p.m. while standing by a portable light trailer at Suitland Parkway and Stanton Road SE in January. At least two persons lost their lives in deadly hit-and-run incidents in the city during 2014. A 53- year-old cyclist was killed after being struck by a light-colored SUV at the intersection of 8th and S Streets, NW on Saturday, September 20, according to the MPD. The striking vehicle was last seen fleeing southbound on 8th Street towards Rhode Island Avenue N.W.
A few days earlier, another hit-and-run collision claimed the life of a 26-year-old pedestrian, who was attempting to cross the 2700 block of Georgia Avenue, N.W., when he was struck and killed by a vehicle that left the scene of the crime without the driver rendering aid to the victim. That road traffic collision occurred Sept. 14, 2014, at approximately 3:17 a.m., according to the Metropolitan Police Department.
On June 28th, a 58-year-old pedestrian running to catch a commuter bus fell on the roadway and was crushed by the bus, reports the MPD’s Major Crash Unit. An adult male pedestrian was struck and killed by a vehicle while he was walking within a westbound lane of the 700 block of I-695, Southeast. That incident occurred at approximately 11:53 p.m. on March 12. In February of this year, a 61-year-old pedestrian was struck and killed while he was walking across the John Phillip Sousa Bridge in Southeast. Reportedly, the sidewalk was covered with snow. That incident occurred at approximately 5:45 a.m. on Feb. 14. In January, a pedestrian was killed on 800 block of 13th Street NW, reports the DCist. While research shows New Year’s Day might not be the most dangerous day to drive, it’s probably the most dangerous day to walk. During 2013, 65 pedestrians and seven bicyclists died in crashes throughout the Washington metro region, according to the Street Smart campaign.
What is more, traffic collisions involving the rider of a motorcycle or the operator of a motor scooter claimed two lives in the District during 2014. In contrast, from coast to coast, traffic deaths declined nearly five percent in the first quarter of 2014, compared to the same period during 2013, according to early estimates by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. Still, an estimated 6,800 died in motor vehicle crashes in this country during that time, compared to a projected 7,150 in the first quarter of 2013.
19-Year Traffic Fatality Trends In Washington, D.C.*
* Note: The MPD Major Crash Unit recorded 41 traffic fatalities in 2006; two additional traffic fatalities that occurred in DC in 2006 were recorded by the Park Police, for a total of 43 traffic fatalities in the District of Columbia in 2006.
Oddly, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s fatal crash statistics vary for the District of Columbia during many of these years. For example, according to the NHTSA’s “traffic safety performance (core outcome) measures for the District of Columbia,” there were 20 traffic fatalities in the city in 2013, including nine pedestrian fatalities, and 15 traffic fatalities in the District in 2012, counting seven pedestrian fatalities. In fact, “133 pedestrians were killed in D.C. between 2003 and 2012, representing 36.1% of traffic-related fatalities in the city during this time,” reported the National Complete Streets Coalition and the DCist. “People over 65 are disproportionately affected, as are Hispanics and African-Americans.”
On average, nearly 30,000 traffic wrecks occur in the city each year, as was the case in 2012, when 29,725 traffic crashes took place here, and in 2011, which witnessed 29,261 motor vehicle collisions in the nation’s capital. That is according to data analyzed by researchers at the Howard University’s Transportation Safety Data Center. Citywide, crashes resulting in injuries comprised about 29 percent of the crashes, while road fatalities represented 0.2 percent. Nationally, “medical expenses reported by auto injury claimants continue to increase faster than the rate of inflation, in spite of the fact that the severity of the injuries themselves remain on a downward trend.” That’s according the Insurance Research Council’s Auto Injury Insurance Claims Study.
“The highest price we pay for car crashes is in the loss of human lives,” traffic safety advocates, including AAA Mid-Atlantic, say. In fact, the economic and societal costs of traffic crashes are staggering in the USA – $871 billion ($999 million in Washington, D.C.) in the loss of life and the loss of productivity in 2010 alone - according to the May 2014 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In 2010, the total economic cost of those crashes was $277 billion, yet the total value of the societal harm was $594 billion, NHTSA reports. Even so, the estimated economic and societal impact of motor vehicle crashes in the city was just shy of one billion dollars in 2010 or $1,659 per capita.