By Michael Roknick
Herald Business Editor
MERCER COUNTY —
PennDOT reported Monday 1,310 people died in crashes on Pennsylvania roads last year, a rise of 24 from 2011.
Despite the increase, the number is still the third-lowest on record with the lowest occurring in 2009 with 1,256 fatalities.
Data from police reports also show 124,062 crashes on Pennsylvania roadways in 2012, a decrease from 125,322 in 2011 and 20,000 fewer than the 144,542 crashes 15 years ago.
Locally, Mercer County saw 17 fatalities in the 1,282 crashes reported in 2012, down from 21 fatalities and 1,358 crashes in 2011. Lawrence County saw 11 vehicle fatalities ins 740 crashes last year, compared to 13 fatalities and 783 crashes in 2011.
“While highway fatalities increased last year, we’re encouraged that historically, deaths on our roadways are trending downward. However, our highway safety mission will continue,” PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said in a news release. “Each life lost on our highways is someone’s relative or loved one, and we keep that in the forefront of our minds when we pursue engineering, education and enforcement tactics aimed at keeping our roads safe.”
The agency credits the downward trend in fatalities to new safety laws for younger drivers.
In 2012 increased driving safety requirements for young drivers took effect. Fatalities in crashes involving a 16- or 17-year-old driver decreased to 44, 22 fewer than in 2011 and significantly fewer than the 133 such fatalities 15 years ago, PennDOT said.
The law increased behind-the-wheel training requirements, placed a limit on the number of passengers a young driver can transport and made not wearing a seat belt a primary offense for young drivers. Also, a texting while driving ban took effect in March 2012.
PennDOT data show that crashes involving drivers using phones decreased from 1,152 in 2011 to 1,096 in 2012. There were eight fatalities in those crashes.
The agency said it has invested $50 million over the last five years for safety improvements at about 4,000 locations. Those included low-cost safety measures such as center-line and edge-line rumble strips; curve-related treatments; sight-distance and intersection improvements; and removing frequently hit trees and other fixed objects. PennDOT also invests about $20 million annually in state and federal funds for safety education and enforcement efforts statewide.
Fatalities in crashes involving a drinking driver droppedd from 391 in 2011 to 377 in 2012, the lowest number in more than 10 years. There were 57 fatalities in crashes involving distracted drivers, two fewer than in 2011.
Twenty-five fewer people died in hit-guiderail crashes last year, with 137 such fatalities in 2012 and 162 in 2011. Fatalities in running-red-light crashes declined from 33 in 2011 to 21 in 2012.
Though many fatal crash categories saw fewer fatalities in 2012, there were increases in some areas. Fatalities in crashes involving drivers age 65 or older rose from 244 in 2011 to 276 in 2012. Pedestrian fatalities rose to 168 in 2012 from 149 in 2011, and motorcyclist fatalities increased to 210 from 199 the previous year.