Recent Route 13 Crashes Raise Questions About Highway Safety

0
288
A truck hauling steel beams jackknifed on U.S. Route 13, closing southbound lanes. Photo courtesy of Virginia State Police.

By Carol Vaughn —

Four fatal crashes on Route 13 since Jan. 25, resulting in six deaths and additional injuries, left Eastern Shore residents and officials asking questions about highway safety.
In two additional, nonfatal incidents reported by police in February, an overturned or jackknifed tractor trailer resulted in long lane closures on the highway.

Additionally, another driver was arrested after having been clocked going 102 miles per hour on the highway in Painter.

“I’m concerned with our (Route) 13 corridor. We have had a lot of fatalities, a lot of car accidents in this last month or so,” said Accomack County Supervisor Reneta Major at the Feb. 16 board of supervisors meeting.

Major requested that a highway department official report to the board at a future meeting.

“I don’t know if there are any extra safety measures that need to be taken. … I’m just concerned,” she said.

Two of the fatal crashes happened in Northampton County and two happened in Accomack County. Both nonfatal tractor trailer incidents happened in Northampton.

State police spokesperson Sgt. Michelle Anaya in an email answered questions from the

Post in the aftermath of the crashes:

What happens during the investigation after a fatal crash?
As you know all motor vehicle crashes are not the same. It depends on the number of vehicles, if the person at fault is injured or deceased, and the severity of the damage or injuries of a motor vehicle crash.

How long does the investigation typically take to complete?
The length and results of every crash investigation are based on the individual and unique merits of the crash. 

How do the results of investigations into fatal crashes inform future police protocol/activity?
The crashes that are investigated are due to a preventable act or event where choices were made and consequences resulted.

Are there plans for increased enforcement in certain areas?
Troopers enforce the code of Virginia daily on Route 13 and all the roads on the Eastern Shore.

Is there a possibility of additional staffing?
At this time the Eastern Shore Area office is short seven troopers. Currently the troopers patrol and enforce Accomack County, Northampton County, and the scales. 
The shortage of troopers is due to the lack of qualified applications that are being submitted. The state police recruits throughout the state of Virginia and the surrounding states. The application process is rigorous, usually over a year long process, then (the recruit) must attend the academy, which is about six months. We have many veteran troopers that are eligible to retire, and many that leave the agency for higher paying employment.

Is there anything else the state police would like our readers to know related to this topic?
Drivers should obey the speed limit, wear their seatbelts, wear helmets, be familiar with roadways and laws, and NOT drive distracted.

Northampton County Sheriff David Doughty said state police investigate all vehicle crashes in the county, but he said the Northampton Sheriff’s Office does “plan to continue and step up our traffic enforcement efforts on Route 13 and have been working on some additional measures to reduce speed and (increase) awareness.”

Doughty said speed appears to have been a factor in some cases, but added, “however, in my opinion distracted driving is the most concerning issue, especially considering the many private and state access roads, traffic lights, and farm equipment on Route 13 in both Northampton and Accomack.”

Accomack County Sheriff Todd Wessells said his department handles mainly criminal cases and the state police handle mainly traffic enforcement. Still, he said, he typically assigns a deputy to traffic duty several days a week to help promote highway safety.

“If we have complaints in certain areas, we go and target those areas,” Wessells said, noting traffic enforcement is done not only on the highway, but on other roadways in the county.

People not slowing down in the highway’s 45-mile-per-hour zones can be a problem.

“People are still flying through their 75 miles per hour,” he said.

Wessells said his office assists state police with crash investigations when requested.
Crossovers on Route 13, in particular ones with no deceleration lane, can be dangerous, he said.

“People need to pay attention and people need to stay off their cell phones,” Wessells said.

Wessells asked the county for funding for four additional deputies in the 2023 budget.

Wessells said recent changes in traffic laws have made enforcement more difficult.

“Legislators have made a lot of these safety laws not a primary offense anymore. They are tying our hands on what we can stop people for on the highway, so in return you have unsafe vehicles operating on the highway because legislators have tied our hands to enforce the law,” he said, adding, “… Headlights and taillights, all of that is important at night driving down the highway. That’s not a primary offense anymore.”

A VDOT spokesperson referenced the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles online crash database and map, TREDS (Traffic Records Electronic Data System). The website is https://www.treds.virginia.gov/mapping/map/CrashesByJurisdiction

The website gives crash locations dating to 2016 and includes filters to designate crashes by their cause — including alcohol-related, speed-related, distraction involved, driver cell phone or texting involved, deer involved, and others.

According to TREDS, most of the recent fatal crash sites also were the locations of previous crashes that resulted in property damage or injury:

— Jan. 25, 4:55 p.m. Route 13 at Royal Farms, 29214 Lankford Highway, in Northampton County. Tractor-trailer driver exiting the parking lot crossed over southbound lanes to head north and was struck by a 2005 Chevy Silverado truck going southbound on Route 13. The Silverado’s driver died on impact. TREDS shows 2 property damage crashes around the same area in 2020, and one property damage crash and one crash with injury in 2016.

— Jan. 28, 7:24 a.m. Route 13, intersection at Riggins Road, in Northampton County. Two girls died and two people were injured after a Ford F250 rear-ended a Toyota Yaris that was stopped for a school bus. The driver of the Ford was charged with two counts of manslaughter and one count of reckless driving. No other crashes in the same area were documented in TREDS since 2016.

— Feb. 8, 5:12 p.m. Route 13, around the Cherry Hill Road intersection near Parksley, in Accomack County. A New Hampshire man driving a 2021 Toyota Camry, heading south on Route 13 at high speed, crashed head-on into a 2013 Chrysler 200 around the Cherry Hill Road intersection. The Chrysler’s driver died at the scene. The Camry’s driver was injured.

He was charged with involuntary manslaugher, DUI maiming, second offense DUI, and one count reckless driving. After the initial crash, the driver of a 2003 Yamaha motorcycle, traveling in the southbound lanes, laid his motorcycle down (intentionally sliding low on the motorcycle to stop) and struck the Chrysler. Two other motorcyclists traveling in the southbound lanes laid their motorcycles down but did not strike any other vehicles. The three motorcyclists all suffered injuries that were not life-threatening. TREDS shows one crash with injury around the same location in 2021 and one crash with injury in 2019.

— Feb. 14, 4 p.m. Route 13 at Withams Road, in Oak Hall. Tractor-trailer and Ford Taurus. Two people died and one was seriously injured; all were occupants of the Taurus. TREDS shows two property damage crashes around the same area in 2021; one property damage crash in 2020 (alcohol related); one property damage crash in 2019; and two property damage crashes in 2016.

TREDS lists factors involved in recent fatal crashes on Route 13.

The Feb. 14 crash at Withams Road involved the factors of a commercial motor vehicle, a large truck, an unrestrained person, and a non-interstate highway.

The Feb. 8 crash near Parksley is not yet listed on TREDS, but police said the driver of the vehicle that crashed head-on into a second vehicle was speeding and charged him with DUI and other charges.

For the Jan. 28 crash at Riggins Road, TREDS did not list factors involved, other than that it happened on a non-interstate roadway.

The Jan. 25 crash near Royal Farms in Northampton lists as factors speed related, non-interstate, driver distracted, mature driver (age 65-plus), large truck involved, and commercial motor vehicle involved.

According to TREDS, in 2021, 10 crashes on Route 13 in Accomack County involved alcohol. Six resulted in injuries and four in property damage.

That year, Northampton had 10 alcohol-related crashes on Route 13. Six resulted in injuries, and four in property damage.

TREDS lists speed as a factor in 44 highway crashes in Northampton and 74 in Accomack, including one fatal crash, in 2021.

Distraction was involved in 22 crashes on Route 13 in Northampton and 35 crashes on Route 13 in Accomack in 2021, according to TREDS.

According to a different Department of Motor Vehicles report, 2020 Virginia Traffic Crash Facts, Accomack County in 2020, the most recent year for which the report is available, had 577 crashes, resulting in five fatalities and 273 injuries. Northampton County had 220 crashes, resulting in five fatalities and 81 injuries.

The report does not give the crash locations; not all happened on Route 13.

According to maps included in the 2020 report:

Two fatal crashes, both in Northampton, were alcohol-related.

Five fatal crashes on the Eastern Shore that year involved speed.

Five fatal crashes involved unrestrained vehicle occupants.

One fatal crash, in Northampton, involved a pedestrian.

One fatal crash, on the Chespeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, involved distracted driving.

Nine fatal crashes on the Eastern Shore in 2020 involved passenger vehicles.

Two fatal crashes, including one in northern Accomack County and one on the bridge-tunnel, involved commercial motor vehicles.

Findings of Route 13 Studies and Plans
The 2035 Regional Long Range Transportation Plan, completed in 2011 by the Accomack-Northampton Planning District Commission, included the goal to improve safety and maintain traffic capacity on Route 13, among other goals.

The plan was intended to serve as a long-term strategy for the transportation network of the region, with projects able to be prioritized for funding based on its recommendations.

“In general, development has been focused in the towns and along US 13, which has characterized travel both through and within the region. Access to and from US 13 and safety along US 13 have been prominent transportation issues and are expected to remain so,” according to the plan.

The plan noted the role of the poultry industry in contributing to truck traffic on the highway, along with Route 13’s use by truckers as an alternative to I-95.

Of 115 locations the plan recommended for roadway improvements in Accomack, 58 are on Route 13.

In Northampton, out of 59 recommended roadway improvements, 36 are on Route 13.
A number of the improvements, including median closures among others, have been completed since the plan came out.

The Virginia Department of Transportation’s 2016 Eastern Shore Safety Study analyzed 25 “hotspots” along the highway and also made general recommendations for highway improvements, some of which since have been implemented.

The hotspots were identified by looking at crash density and where fatal and severe crashes happened.

The study used five years of crash data (2010 – 2014) to assess the safety of the Route 13 and Route 175 corridors.

There were 1,574 crashes, 23 of them fatal, between 2010 and 2014 along the Route 13/Route 175 corridor, according to the study.

The study noted that, while fatal crashes “are often random events,” and that there was a 54% reduction in fatal crashes since a 2002 study, the locations of fatal crashes on Route 13 in both studies were found to be concentrated between milepost 115, around the Tasley Road/Front Street intersection traffic signal in Accomac, and milepost 125, in Nelsonia; and between mileposts 135 and 140, in the New Church area.

The recent fatal crash sites are not among the 25 sites analyzed in the 2016 study.

Recently completed Route13 safety improvements in Northampton include installation of a traffic signal, signs, and lighting at the Country Plaza intersection near Stone Road, in Cape Charles. The project also widened and lengthened left-turn lanes on Route 13 to Country Plaza and Stone Road.

In Accomack recent improvements include installing a traffic signal at New Temperanceville Road and closing access to Old Temperanceville Road; installing curbs and reducing access points at the intersection of Route 13 and Chincoteague Road at T’s Corner; and installing a traffic signal at the intersection of Route 13 and Parkway, at the industrial park, and eliminating the crossover in front of Eastern Shore Community College.

A VDOT study is underway now to assess safety and operational conditions along Route 13 from Redwood Road/Coastal Boulevard to Taylor Road, in the Onley area. Information is at https://www.virginiadot.org/projects/hamptonroads/stars_rte_13_lankford_highway_improvement_study.asp

Previous articleChincoteague Presents Crash Investigation Equipment to State Police
Next articlePreserve Communities Founder Indicted on Fraud, Tax-Related Charges