While deadly crashes dip, DMV numbers show deaths from drinking and driving rise

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. — While new numbers from the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles shows fewer deadly crashes on Virginia roads last year, there was an increase in people being killed by drinking and driving. 

Every day for the past five years has been tough for Susan VanDenburgh. 

“To this day I think ‘I should call dad now,’” she explained. “Then it dawns on me that I can’t.” 

Her father, John “Jack” VanDenburgh, was hit by a drunk driver on Feb. 1, 2014, on Route 33 in Hanover County. For two months, he was in the burn unit at VCU Medical Center.

“The guy who killed my dad, it was his fifth DUI,” VanDenburgh said.

April 18 will be the anniversary of Jack VanDenburgh’s death.

Wearing his ashes in a necklace whenever she hops in the car, VanDenburgh misses her dad every day. She wants to make sure no one else goes through the same pain, volunteering with Mothers Against Drunk Driving to share her family’s story with others. 

“I want everyone to have fun but I don’t want anyone to be thrown into the hell that we were thrown into that one day,” she said. 

But most people aren’t putting on the brakes after a few drinks. 

According to figures released today by the DMV, 819 people were killed in crashes on Virginia roads last year. That’s a four percent decrease from the year before. While deadly crashes overall are going down, there was a 12% increase in alcohol-related deaths. There were also increases in deaths of teen drivers; 23%, pedestrians; 8%, and speed-related crashes; 7%. 

“That’s a lot,” VanDenburgh said. “That’s a whole lot and that’s so disappointing.”

Highway safety has been a major focus at the state Capitol. By executive order, Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Virginia) formed a highway safety task force last December that’s aim is to decrease the number of road deaths. Its first initiative was on distracted driving. 

Lawmakers also passed tougher penalties for not following the Move Over Law and tried to get through a hand-held cell phone ban, which failed to get enough support last Wednesday. 

But when it comes down to it, VanDenburgh says the responsibility is on the drivers. 

“I don’t care who you are, go out have a designated driver, use a rideshare service there’s no excuse,” she said. “Call an Uber, call a Lyft, call a friend, call me. I will pick anybody up and take them home.” 

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