HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania roadways are among the deadliest in the country when it comes to crashes caused by speeding drivers, a new analysis shows.
The analysis, by researchers at CoPilot, a car-shopping app, found that in Pennsylvania, 41.9% of total traffic deaths involve speeding. Pennsylvania has the fifth-highest percentage of traffic deaths that involve speeding in the U.S.
Only the District of Columbia and three other states – Rhode Island, Hawaii and New Hampshire – had a larger share of their highway death toll blamed on speeding over the five year period from 2014-2018, according the company’s analysis.
The same report found that six Pennsylvania counties were among the 15 counties in the U.S. where speeding was blamed for the largest percent of traffic fatalities – Fayette, Washington, Monroe, Blair, Westmoreland and Cambria counties.
The state Department of Transportation has recognized speeding as a safety problem on Pennsylvania’s roads, said Jennifer Kuntch, a PennDOT spokeswoman.
According to state data, speeding was blamed for 162 roadway deaths in Pennsylvania last year. That’s more than a death every two days, but it’s the fewest number of deaths blamed on speeding drivers in a year since 2000, according to PennDOT data. There were 187 deaths blamed on speeding drivers in 2018. In 2007, there were 385 deaths blamed on speeding drivers in Pennsylvania, according to the state data.
“Fatalities in speeding crashes have been on a continued downward trend, we think we have the right mix of strategies to work on improving this aspect of safety,” Kuntch said.
The state’s Highway Strategic Plan, created in 2017, called for implementing automated speed enforcement as part of the state’s effort to slow down drivers. Pennsylvania began using automated speed cameras in work zones earlier this year.
Pennsylvania’s automated work zone cameras were turned off from March 16-April 20 because construction had been halted due to the state’s pandemic shutdown, Kuntch said.
The “units can only operate in active work zones,” she said.
Despite that month without operating, the speed cameras have issued 30,000 violation notices, she said.
Ninety percent of those notices were warnings given because it was the driver’s first offense, she said.
The plan also called for the use of warning systems to alert drivers when they are exceeding the speed limit or warning them if they are approaching stopped traffic.
“With all that said, with 162 fatalities in speeding crashes in 2019, there is still more work to do,” Kuntch said.
Mercer County recorded four fatalities and four fatal injuries due to speeding in 2018 and four serious injuries and no fatalities in 2019.
Pennsylvania is one of 41 states that have maximum speed limits of 70 mph or higher. Six states have 80 mph limits, and drivers in Texas can legally drive 85 mph on some roads.
Pennsylvania began increasing its maximum highway speed limit after the increased speed limit was included in 2013 legislation that increased the state gas tax.
“The data speaks for itself” in that the number of deaths blamed on speeding has only gone down since then, said Joe Butzer, interim president of the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association.
Butzer said that from the trucking industry’s standpoint, the biggest problem with speeding relates to the disparity in the speeds at which speeding motorists and truck drivers may travel.
“For fuel economy and safety,” he said, trucks are often equipped so that they won’t travel over a designated speed, whether the driver wants to do so or not, he said.
If motorists are traveling far above the posted speed limit, “that’s when you run into trouble” if they come upon a truck that is traveling the posted speed limit or less than it, he said.
The Governors Highway Safety Association, a national group based in Washington, D.C., released a report last year linking states’ moves to embrace higher maximum speed limits with increased deaths. That report noted that in 2017, nationally 26 percent of road deaths were blamed on speeding.
Even so, there has been no statewide movement to roll back maximum highway speed limits, said Pam Shadel Fischer, senior director at GSHA.
She said that rather than lower statewide maximum speed limits, transportation officials are more likely to lower the speed limits in specific locations if they determine there is a problem there, she said.
In particular, cities across the country have been lowering speed limits to reduce the danger speeding drivers pose to pedestrians, she said.
Drivers should recognize that when they exceed the posted speed limit, they are increasing the likelihood that they won’t be able to stop safely if they need to do so, Fischer said.
“Our challenge is to change the culture of speeding,” she said. “There is a trade-off. Bad things do happen.”