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Driver-safety record takes turn for worse

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, 11:52 p.m.
Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
People exchange information at the scene of a fender bender along Fifth Avenue in Oakland on Tuesday.

Pittsburgh skidded in a ranking of driver safety by one of the nation's largest auto insurers, a problem police blame on distracted drivers and speeders.

Allstate Insurance on Tuesday released its ninth annual Best Drivers report, which found that Pittsburgh went from the 27th to 22nd most-dangerous city for driver safety.

“That's surprising,” Mike Cinker, 44, of Marshall. said “Sixteen of the 20 years of my career I've been commuting. The traffic is really not that bad compared to other major cities.”

Pittsburgh ranked 175th of 196 cities, which means it has one of the worst driver-safety records based on accidents reported to Allstate, although PennDOT officials contend the picture is brighter statewide because the number of accidents has decreased.

“Most of what we see are rear-end collisions, usually from distraction or following too closely,” state police Trooper Robin Mungo said. “People get so complacent. I just think everyone is so focused on their final destination. Add to that the cell phone, the radio, having a conversation in the car, a baby in the back.”

Allstate calculated its accident claims data and ranked the cities based on car collision frequency. The average driver in Pittsburgh will get in an accident every 7.2 years, according to the report. Philadelphia drivers, who ranked even lower, at 191st out of 196, will experience an accident every six years.

Pittsburgh's safety ranking has slipped every year since 2008.

Topping the ranking as the safest cities in which to drive are Fort Collins, Colo., and Boise. The least-safe city is Washington. Baltimore is second-to-last on the list.

Allstate holds about 10 percent of the nation's auto insurance policies.

“What we look at is the claims data, and Pittsburgh moved down the list. We don't look at the ‘why,' ” said Julia Reusch, Allstate spokeswoman. “Our only goal is to get people talking about safe driving so Pittsburgh is moving in the right direction next year.”

Allen Biehler, a former PennDOT secretary and the executive director of Technologies for Safe and Efficient Transportation, said the study does not take into account the age of the cities' roads. He pointed out that fatalities are down because of airbags.

“Things I'd look for are how dense of an urban area is it and whether it's a new street system versus an old street system,” Biehler said. “The level of congestion is also a factor.”

PennDOT statistics show that accidents are down 1.6 percent from five years ago. In 2008, 126,067 crashes were reported to PennDOT compared with 124,062 in 2012. Speed continues to be the leading cause of crashes.

In Allegheny County from 2008 to 2012, crashes reported to PennDOT increased to 12,177, up from 11,851, a 2.75 percent increase.

“I hate the traffic,” said Ellin DeSimone, 56, of Swissvale, who drives about 11 miles to and from work each day. She said she's somewhat aggressive on the way home to ensure she gets in the quickest lane.

“I'm surprised we have that many accidents,” she said.

PennDOT spokesman Steve Cowan said accidents tallied by PennDOT are different than those reported to insurance companies. An accident is reported to PennDOT only if a vehicle needs to be towed or someone is injured. He said PennDOT has tried to make roads safer by increasing pavement markings, doing more line painting, upgrading guardrails and organizing more safety events.

“We're pleased that crashes are on the decline,” he said.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or

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