West Virginia is among the most dangerous States for motorists. Each year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gathers data from all of over the country related to vehicular deaths, making State-by-State comparisons. One key metric they calculate is the rate of motor vehicle accident deaths per 100 million miles traveled. For the most recent year, this data is available for, 2016, West Virginia’s vehicular death rate is 1.37 (per 100 million miles traveled). This is significantly higher than the National Average of 1.16.
West Virginia Accident Trends
This rate has improved in recent years, both in real terms and with respect to the rest of the Nation. In 2013, West Virginia’s vehicular death rate was 1.75 per 100 million miles traveled, the second highest in the Nation, behind only Montana.
That year, the National Average was 1.11.
Three years later, West Virginia had reduced its vehicular fatality rate by over 20%, while the National average edged higher.
West Virginia’s ranking improved to 15th, which is, however, still in the top half.
There is also some uncertainty regarding whether there is a true permanent downward trend in statewide vehicular fatalities. It takes the NHTSA nearly a year to determine how many vehicular miles were traveled in each State over the prior year. Therefore, the vehicular fatality rates shown above are not yet available for 2017.
However, the total number of fatalities for the year has been determined. While the National total remained largely unchanged (it actually decreased from 37,806 to 37,133), vehicle fatalities in West Virginia climbed back above 300 for the first time since 2013.
Charleston and Kanawha County Accidents
Charleston and Kanawha County have traffic fatality rates relatively lower than the rest of the state. Urban areas tend to have lower vehicular fatality rates, as people are typically driving slower. With Charleston and neighboring towns, Kanawha County is one of the more urban counties in West Virginia. While 10.6% of West Virginia’s population resides in Kanawha County, for the period from 2013 through 2017, only 8.6% of the State’s traffic fatalities occurred in Kanawha County.
Charleston’s Dangerous Road and Intersections
This does not mean driving in Charleston is without danger, particularly on the highways, where higher speed can make serious injuries and fatalities more likely. Since the start of 2013, the Charleston Police Department has reported nearly 10,000 traffic incidents (9,796 as of the end of October). While this data is not perfect, it points to a few places with high incident volume.
Fig. 4: A Heatmap of incidents in Charleston (2013- Oct. 2018)
Unsurprisingly, one such area is downtown, including the entire heavily populated corridor along the Kanawha River. Two other areas with a high volume of incidences are Southeast of town, along Interstate 64. Data indicates a significant number of incidents occur near where the West Virginia Turnpike begins, as well as further South along the highway. Also, in the largely suburban Corridor G area Southwest of downtown.
Charleston’s Dangerous Intersections
As far as specific intersections, these are the most dangerous intersections in Charleston.
- Washington West & Pennsylvania Ave (19 Accidents)
- Pennsylvania Ave & Lee St (16 Accidents)
- Randolph St & Pennsylvania Ave (16 Accidents)
- MacCorkle Ave & 36th St (12 Accidents)
- 31st St SE & MacCorkle SE (11 Accidents)
Hit and Run Accidents
Fig. 5: A heatmap of hit and run accidents in Charleston (2013- Oct. 2018)
Another potential headache for those involved in a traffic incident is when one or more party involved leaves the scene of the accident, making it harder for authorities to track them down. These incidents are labeled “hit and runs”, and can make it particularly hard for victims to receive fair compensation from those at fault. According to the Charleston Police Department data, nearly 29% of all recent incidents in Charleston are “hit and runs”.
There were a number of intersections that were frequently the location of hit and run accidents over the past 5 years.
- Corridor G & Oakwood Ave (12 Accidents)
- Patrick St & 4th Ave (10 Accidents)
- Lee St W & Pennsylvania Ave N (9 Accidents)
- Iowa St & 7th Ave (6 Accidents)
- Washington St W & Breece St (5 Accidents)
Drunk Driving Accidents
Fig. 6: A Heatmap of accidents in Charleston (2013- Oct. 2018) where one or more driver is impaired by alcohol.
Additionally, as is the case anywhere in the country, Driving Under the Influence (DUI) can be a serious issue. Incidents where one or more of the drivers are impaired (defined as having a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher) are more likely to become deadly due to the inability of the vehicle operator to properly respond. Alcohol impairment is only cited in around 2% of all incidents in Charleston. Yet, it is likely (based on State and County data) responsible for over 20% of all traffic fatalities.
Perhaps not surprisingly, incidents, where one or more drivers are impaired by alcohol, are also more common is specific places.
Figure 5 points to specific areas downtown where drunk driving accidents seem to be common. Not surprisingly there are a couple areas on Virginia Ave that saw multiple DUI accidents, near the intersection of Bradford St and Dickinson St. Elizabeth St between Virginia and Washington, was the sight of number DUI accidents over the years.
The intersections that saw recurring drunk driving accidents over the past 5 years are:
- Washington St W & Pennsylvania Ave S (3 Accidents)
- Pacific St & Garrison Ave (2 Accidents)
- Bigley Ave & Pennsylvania Ave (2 Accidents)
- Lee St E & Bradford St (2 Accidents)
- Park Ave & Central Ave (2 Accidents)
Traffic safety continues to be a concern for the State of West Virginia, as well as the city of Charleston. While there may be the appearance that the highways in the Charleston area are becoming safer, there are still more accidents and deadly ones than there are in many other parts of the country.
There are also certain specific places within the city where incidents, as well as incidents involving alcohol impairment, are more likely to occur. While most drivers take their safety and responsibilities as drivers seriously, there are some that don’t, driving intoxicated, and/or leaving the scene of an accident before authorities can assess the situation. Given the rate of incidents, Charleston area drivers should have a plan in mind in the event that there is an unfortunate encounter with one of these irresponsible users of the road.