PennDOT: Record Low of Highway Deaths Reported in 2009

(Graphic provided by PennDOT)

HARRISBURG – The number of fatalities on Pennsylvania highways in 2009 dropped to 1,256, the lowest number since recordkeeping began in 1928, said PennDOT Secretary Allen D. Biehler, P.E.

The previous low was 1,328 in 1944; in 2008 the commonwealth saw 1,468 traffic fatalities.

“I’m extremely pleased that the partnership among PennDOT, law enforcement and other safety partners is playing a role in reducing the number of lives lost on Pennsylvania’s roadways,” Biehler said. “While we’ve made progress, we continue to work on further reducing that number; we want every single driver to get home safely.”

According to PennDOT’s preliminary numbers, significant decreases were noted in unrestrained, alcohol-related and aggressive driving fatalities. Unrestrained fatalities decreased from 567 in 2008 to 451 in 2009. Alcohol-related fatalities dropped from 531 in 2008 to 442 last year. Deaths attributed to aggressive driving dropped to 130, down from 141 in 2008.

PennDOT distributed $11 million in federal funding last year for aggressive- and impaired-driving enforcement. With the funding, 396 police departments conducted aggressive driving enforcement efforts statewide. Additionally, more than 600 police departments conducted 3,000 impaired-driving enforcement operations.

In addition to providing funding for safety education and enforcement, PennDOT invests approximately $10 million annually to fund low-cost safety engineering improvements. Low-cost safety improvements include initiatives such as centerline rumble strip installation, improved traffic signalization, signage improvements and utility pole relocation.

Overall, nearly 12,000 low-cost improvements have been made statewide since 2000. A study of the 1,167 miles of center-line rumble strips installed from 2000-04 showed a 35 to 50 percent crash reduction at the strip locations while shoulder rumble strips resulted in a 20 to 30 percent reduction.

“Unfortunately, many of the fatalities we see every year could be prevented if people would follow some simple rules: always wear seat belts, never drink and drive and obey the speed limit,” Biehler said. “Those are the points we try to make in our education efforts.”

Despite the record low number of highway deaths recorded last year, fatalities in crashes involving drivers ages 65 and older increased to 276 from 259 in 2008. To help curtail highway deaths in this age group, PennDOT offers information on approved Mature Driver Improvement courses offered statewide, a brochure on talking with mature drivers and other safety tips at its highway safety information source online.

To find out more about PennDOT’s safety efforts, including resources, tips, program descriptions and much more, visit the Drive Safe PA Web site. The site offers information and tips on many highway safety areas, including bicycle/pedestrian, child passenger safety, heavy trucks, engineering infrastructure, motorcycle safety, school bus safety, work zones and young drivers.

PennDOT aims to save at least 100 more lives per year through its safety programs, as outlined in the Drive Safe PA initiative. Drive Safe PA encourages motorists to avoid life-threatening driving behaviors such as not buckling up, driving impaired and driving aggressively. More than 85 percent of Pennsylvania’s crashes are related to driver behavior.

“Although we’re excited that motorists are driving safer than ever before, we can never lose sight that 1,256 loved ones lost their lives,” Biehler said. “We will continue to explore every option to help increase safety on Pennsylvania roads.”

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