By Joe Beck
The number of fatal accidents in Northern Shenandoah Valley counties declined slightly in 2013, according to preliminary data obtained from the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
The DMV records show 23 died on the roads in Frederick, Shenandoah and Warren counties last year, two fewer than the 25 deaths in 2012 for the same counties.
The data show the sharpest decrease in Frederick County, where 11 died in crashes in 2013, compared to 15 in 2012. Shenandoah County recorded seven traffic fatalities, two more than 2012 and Warren County held steady at five each for 2012 and 2013.
Matthew Butner, a communications consultant with the DMV, said the agency's numbers are preliminary while law enforcement agencies and DMV staff members continue to process crash reports from 2013.
"These reports can change over time," Butner said.
Warren County Sheriff Daniel T. McEathron said one fatal accident is too many.
McEathron said it is hard to interpret what, if anything, the numbers say about the driving habits of Warren County residents.
"A lot of people travel our roadways who aren't from here," McEathron said, adding that he didn't know how many fatal crashes involved residents or non-residents.
Lt. Warren Gosnell, head of the traffic division in the Frederick County Sheriff's Office, said stepped up drunk driving enforcement aided by a state grant has been a key factor in reducing the number of fatal accidents and overall accident total in his county.
"I think the numbers show our proactivity in taking impaired drivers off the road is saving lives," Gosnell said, "and it's at least reducing the number of crashes."
DMV data show a steady decline in statewide traffic fatalities since 2008 when 821 road deaths were recorded. The number fell to 775 in 2012 and 696 in 2013.
Sgt. F.L. (Les) Tyler of the Virginia State Police said seat belt usage often determines whether someone survives a serious accident.
"That might be the most underlying contributing factor to fatalities and injuries," Tyler said of the failure of some vehicle occupants to wear seat belts.
Tyler said state police focus on enforcement of mandatory seat belts laws and anti-speeding, drunk driving and reckless driving initiatives to reduce traffic fatalities.
Jeanette Tejeda de Gomez, a public affairs specialist with AAA Mid-Atlantic, said she was stunned at some preliminary statistics that showed no adverse weather conditions during 82.6 percent of traffic fatalities in Virginia in 2013.
Eight of the 11 traffic fatalities in Frederick County last year reported no adverse weather conditions, Tejeda de Gomez said.
Warren County's five fatalities included two during foggy weather, Tejeda de Gomez said. Another was attributed to rain and the remaining two contained no reports of poor weather.
Shenandoah County's seven fatalities included two during rain and five in which the weather did not appear to play a part.
"It's encouraging that the fatality levels are going down, and it's consistent with previous trends," Tejeda de Gomez said of the statewide data. "But there's still plenty of work to do. Each life is precious."
Contact staff writer Joe Beck at 540-465-5137 ext. 142, or email@example.com