Pennsylvania highway deaths slightly increased last year, despite national dip |

Pennsylvania highway deaths slightly increased last year, despite national dip

Nicole C. Brambila
Louis B. Ruediger | Tribune -Review
State Police conduct their investigation of a fatal accident along Route 380 in Bell Township.

The number of highway fatalities dipped nationally last year even as Pennsylvania’s overall traffic deaths saw a bump, federal and state data analyzed by the Tribune-Review shows.

Early estimates show 36,750 people died in motor vehicle crashes nationally in 2018, a roughly 1% year-over-year decrease, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The U.S. Department of Transportation does not yet have state estimates on highway deaths.

State transportation data, however, shows 1,190 people died on Pennsylvania’s roadways last year compared to 1,137 in 2017, a 4.7% increase.

“In any given year there are going to be a handful of states that go up and that go down,” said Kara Macek, director or programs for the Governors Highway Safety Association.

Over the past two decades, highway fatalities across the U.S. have dropped just 1%, federal data shows.

The trend over the past two decades does show the number of fatalities falling in Pennsylvania.

Since 1999, traffic deaths in Pennsylvania have declined nearly 25%. Southwestern Pennsylvania has seen this drop, too, although the declines were 14%.

These overall declines lead transportation officials to believe the highway fatalities cited in a federal report last week indicative of the variances commonly found in year-over-year statistics.

“The fluctuation in the numbers happens,” said Ryan Tartowski, a Pennsylvania State Police spokesman.

Alexis Campbell, a PennDOT spokeswoman, said that a preliminary assessment of fatality data shows impaired drivers and those between 65 and 74 are fueling the increase. Pedestrian deaths, which were up 41% in the first six months of last year, was also a contributing factor, Campbell said.

“PennDOT will now analyze the data to determine trends and use that analysis to drive behavioral safety and infrastructure improvements to roadways in an effort to further reduce fatalities and serious injuries,” Campbell said in an email.

Campbell added, “Last year was the third-lowest number of highway fatalities recorded and overall fatalities continue to trend downward.”

The biggest fatality declines over the last 20 years in Pennsylvania were among the state’s youngest drivers with 16-year-old drivers seeing an 88% decrease and 17-year-olds a 70% drop, PennDOT data shows.

Fatal crashes involving drunken drivers are also down 42%.

Despite these gains, certain categories tracked by state transportation officials showed worrying upticks such as the percentage of fatal crashes involving distracted drivers. In 1999, distracted driving accounted for just 2% of roadway fatalities in Pennsylvania. By 2018, that figured had climbed to 5.4%.

In Southwestern Pennsylvania, the year-over-year increase in overall fatalities was 3.3% with 244 roadway deaths in 2017 and 258 last year, across the 12 counties that include Allegheny and Westmoreland.

Allegheny, Washington and Butler had more fatalities last year, while Westmoreland, Fayette and Beaver counties had fewer.

In 2014, Beverly Albaugh was walking in a grocery store parking lot when she was struck by a vehicle, leaving the retired Latrobe nurse with severe sciatic nerve pain.

The same driving factors that killed 201 pedestrians in 2018, injured 488.

The way Albaugh sees it, the crashes that maim Pennsylvanians don’t get enough attention.

“I don’t know that anything can be done about it,” said Albaugh, 82. “We have too many miles and not enough police to police every area.”

Solving any intractable problem – transportation officials say – requires enforcement and education.

Tartowski, with the state police, said the solutions will be familiar, but bear repeating: Buckle up. Slow down. And don’t drive distracted or under the influence of alcohol or medication.

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