The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

April 1, 2013

PennDOT: Pa. highway deaths trending downward

Kathy Mellott

JOHNSTOWN — PennDOT’s central office in Harrisburg reported Monday that 2012 saw the third-lowest number of fatalities on state highways on record. But the number of fatalities in Cambria and Somerset counties remains high – and is increasing for those without seat belts.

While the 1,310 people killed in crashes on Pennsylvania roads in 2012 was 24 more than 2011, the number of fatalities is lower than it was 15 years ago and for many of the years in between, according to PennDOT secretary Barry Schoch.

“While highway fatalities increased last year, we’re encouraged that historically, deaths on our roadways are trending downward,” Schoch said.

The improving record is believed to be largely due to education, enforcement tactics and improved highway and bridge engineering, he said.

An improving picture also is emerging from the Pennsylvania Turnpike. In 2012, 17 fatalities were reported on the toll road.

It is the fifth-lowest number on record since 1959, said Renee Vid Coburn, manager of media and public relations.

Closer to home, Cambria County had 1,216 reportable crashes resulting in 17 fatalities in 2012. Ten of those people were not wearing seat belts, said Pam Kane, PennDOT District 9 safety press officer.

In 2011, Cambria had 1,355 reportable crashes resulting in 18 fatalities with six not wearing seat belts.

In Somerset County in 2012, there were 792 reportable crashes and 12 fatalities, including five not wearing seat belts.

Somerset for 2011 had 852 crashes with eight fatalities, including three not wearing seat belts, Kane said.

“Our unbelted rate is up a lot. It’s like that across the six counties (comprising District 9). That’s a little bit discouraging,” Kane said.

On a positive note, there appears to be a decline in the number of alcohol- related crashes, something credited to the aggressive enforcement of driving under the influence violations, especially over holidays.

But of concern is an upward trend in the number of vehicle crashes involving drivers age 65 and over, Kane said.

“It’s hard to pinpoint what is causing it,” she said.

In 2012, drivers 65 and older in Cambria County accounted for 197 crashes, while those ages 16 and 17 had 88.

During the same year in Somerset County, those 65 and older accounted for 116 of the crashes, while those 16 and 17 resulted in 51 crashes.

Statewide, the number of fatalities in 2012 involving those over age 65 was at 276, up from the 244 of the year before, according to state figures.

Kane said the 65 and older category had no upward limit, meaning it would involve a greater number of drivers.

She is hopeful that PennDOT’s effort to increase the importance of safety and decrease distracted driving in the schools is playing a role in the figures.

Schoch, in a statement, pointed out that the 2011 implementation of increased driving safety requirements for young drivers produced a 2012 decrease in fatalities involving 16- to 17-year-olds.

The March 2012 ban on texting while driving also helped to reduce the overall number of crashes, he said.

PennDOT crash data show that in 2011 there were 1,152 crashes involving drivers using phones, while the figure went to 1,096 in 2012, according to the state.

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