Nearly 24 hours after two young girls lost their lives and another five people wound up hospitalized with critical injuries, police announced that a T-bone collision between a Nissan sedan and a pickup truck on two-lane Sandbridge Road in rural southeastern Virginia Beach, VA, occurred shortly after the smaller car had run off the shoulder and veered back into the path of oncoming traffic.
The deceased children were passengers in the car, which ended up in a ditch along the opposite side of the road from which it had been traveling. A passenger in the pickup also sustained serious injuries, as did the driver and other children in the Nissan. The initial investigation revealed that the car's driver had run off the shoulder, then overcorrected while steering back onto the roadway. The pickup driver could not stop in time to avoid the crash, nor could he swerve out of the way.
Reentering traffic is always risky, but doing so is especially dangerous when a vehicle is moving at a high rate of speed and there is no shoulder or median. The speed limit on Sandbridge is 45 mph, and it is bordered by sand one side and a drainage ditch on the other. A double yellow line is all that separates lanes of cars of trucks speeding toward each other.
The Federal Highway Safety Administration has for several years made expertise and some funding available to states, counties and cities through its Local and Rural Road Safety Program. The agency does these things because, as it writes on its website, "the majority of highway fatalities take place on rural roads. Rural roads account for approximately 40 percent of the vehicle miles traveled in the U.S., but almost 57 percent of fatalities. According to recent data, 19,259 people were killed in rural crashes in 2009 and the fatality rate for rural crashes is more than twice the fatality rate in urban crashes."
To ensure a tragedy like one that occurred this past Wednesday does not recur, Virginia Beach authorities should act quickly to make Sandbridge Road and the many other heavily traveled rural roads in the lower half of the city wider, slower and safer.