PennDOT: Traffic fatalities up, but trending down

Statewide traffic fatalities increased in 2020 even as those deaths marked an overall downward trend, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Traffic fatalities rose to 1,129 from 2019’s record low of 1,059. Pennsylvania had the second-lowest number of highway fatalities last year, however, since overall fatalities continue to trend downward.

“Even one life lost is one too many,” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. “Pennsylvania is committed to moving toward zero deaths.

“Our biggest priority continues to be safe travel regardless of the mode you use; and we continue to work with our partners to decrease fatalities through educational outreach, the latest innovations, effective enforcement and low-cost safety improvements.”

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Pennsylvania roadway deaths were up about 6% in 2020, even as traffic counts dropped 20% statewide last year compared to 2019.

This increase aligns with a recently released report from the  National Safety Council showing preliminary data estimates national motor-vehicle deaths are up 8 percent.

“We cannot definitively say why fatalities increased during the COVID-19 pandemic; even though it certainly had an impact on traffic volumes statewide,” said Gramian. “Over the long term, traffic fatalities are still trending down; but we must continue to work together to make our roads safer for all drivers.

“Motorists are our most important partners in road safety – we can only get to zero fatalities with your help. We urge all Pennsylvanians to always wear their seat belts, never drive impaired or distracted, and always follow the speed limit.”

traffic fatalities

Categories with decreases

The overall number of highway deaths increased last year. Decreases in fatalities were noted in several categories, however, including:

  • Crashes involving drivers aged 65 or older,
  • Head on/opposite direction side swipes,
  • Crashes involving distracted drivers, and
  • Pedestrian crashes.

Fatalities in drivers 65 years old or older dropped from 281 in 2019 to 243 in 2020. Head on crashes/opposite direction side swipe fatalities also decreased from 158 in 2019 to 128 last year. Forty-seven fatalities in 2020 crashes involved distracted drivers compared to 62 in 2019.

Long-term trends down

Additionally, the year-to-year longer-term trends also continue to decrease. For example, compared to 2016, there were 59 fewer total traffic deaths, 86 fewer deaths in lane departure crashes, and 60 fewer fatalities involving unrestrained occupants in crashes.

The following crash types saw fatality increases in 2020:

  • Single vehicle run-off-the-road crashes – 506 fatalities, up from 447 in 2019;
  • Crashes on local roads – 224 fatalities, up from 186 in 2019;
  • Motorcycle crashes – 217 fatalities, up from 174 in 2019; and
  • Crashes involving speeding – 188 fatalities, up from 162 in 2019.

Over 90% of crashes are caused by driver behavior, according to national data. For this reason, PennDOT focuses on data trends to drive enforcement and education improvements; and invests $18 million annually in federal grant funds statewide to support these behavioral safety programs.

In addition to behavioral safety, PennDOT focuses on infrastructure improvements to roadways in an effort to further reduce fatalities and serious injuries. PennDOT invested about $477 million in Federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funds in 444 unique safety projects from 2015 to 2019.

PennDOT invested another $50 million in state funds in low-cost safety improvements at about 3,000 locations. Examples of low-cost safety countermeasures include centerline and edge-line rumble strips and signing and pavement markings.

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