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Despite drop in highway traffic in Pennsylvania in 2020, fatalities increased

Far fewer Pennsylvanians took to the state’s highways during the pandemic in 2020 than the prior year – but fatal accidents increased from 2019, puzzling highway officials.

In 2020, statewide traffic deaths increased to 1,129 from the record low of 1,059 in 2019, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation announced this week. Despite a 20% reduction in traffic counts due to the COVID-19 pandemic, fatalities were up 6% in 2020.

“We cannot definitively say why fatalities increased during the COVID-19 pandemic even though it certainly had an impact on traffic volumes statewide,” PennDOT Secretary Yassmin Gramian said. “Over the long term, traffic fatalities are still trending down, but we must continue to work together to make our roads safer for all drivers.”

PennDOT emphasized that the 2020 total, despite being an increase from 2019, was the second-lowest fatality number on record.

Decreases in fatalities involving drivers aged 65 or older, head on/opposite direction side swipes, crashes involving distracted drivers, and pedestrian crashes were recorded for 2020.

Long-term year-to-year trends also continue to decrease. Compared to 2016, there were 59 fewer total traffic deaths, 86 fewer deaths in lane departure crashes, and 60 fewer fatalities involving unrestrained occupants in crashes.

Crashes in 2020 involving single vehicle run-off-the-road, local roads, motorcycles, and speeding saw fatality increases.

According to national data, more than 90 percent of crashes are caused by driver behavior. PennDOT focuses on enforcement and education improvements by investing $18 million annually of federal grant funds in behavioral safety programs.

“Our biggest priority continues to be safe travel regardless of the mode you use, and we continue to work with our partners to decrease fatalities through educational outreach, the latest innovations, effective enforcement and low-cost safety improvements,” Gramian said.

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