The National Safety Council (NSC) makes it their duty to remind citizens of the dangerous motor vehicle accidents they could get in. One of their most effective strategies is to compile the data of all U.S. vehicle fatalities in each state at the end of the year. They place the dossier next to recordings of previous years. This helps determine which states have higher accident rates and which states saw an increase or decrease in the previous year.
The NSC’s 2017 Motor Vehicle Fatality Estimates show that there were over 40,000 deaths for the second year in a row. While several states had lower amounts than 2016, the overall total was not down by much.
Pennsylvania saw a decrease by four percent in 2017, which was coming off a five percent decrease in 2016. Decreasing motor vehicle fatalities by nine percent in the last two years sounds like progress, but it does not change the fact that Pennsylvania still has significantly higher death rates than the majority of the country.
While part of this is due to the state’s high population, New York shows that you can have lower than a thousand fatalities in a state with high population density. The NSC has a few reasons why they think Pennsylvania is consistently at risk for so many motor vehicle deaths each year.
Loose seatbelt laws
In July 2017, the NSC conducted a state-by-state report on safety laws. Each subsection in every category was given the rank of “On Track”, “Developing” and “Off Track” depending on how strict the safety laws were. In both road safety and overall, Pennsylvania scored a D.
The category that failed most frequently were seat belt laws. While the state does require drivers and passengers to wear them, the state’s seat belt law is secondary. Drivers pulled over for not wearing seat belts do not face harsh punishments or fines for doing so. In addition, all occupants and seating positions do not have law coverage, and it is not required for school buses.
When the Pennsylvania State Police released 2017 fatal crash statistics for Berks, Schuylkill and Lebanon counties, they found that almost half of the people who died were not wearing seat belts. This demonstrates the effect the secondary law might have.
Lack of protection for vulnerable road users
Another area of road safety that scored poorly were laws regarding vulnerable road users. Pennsylvania does not have a law that requires motorcycle drivers over 21 to wear a helmet. Like seat belts, motorcycle helmets can significantly reduce fatalities. In the previously mentioned article about seat belts, the police found two dead motorcycle drivers without helmets.
The NSC also marked Pennsylvania for not having requirements to stop for pedestrians in uncontrolled walkways or roadways. While the state has laws for vehicles to yield the right-of-way for crossing roadways with marked crosswalks, the failure to protect unmarked areas could lead to more accidents.
What to do
Even if the state does not enforce these laws as much as the NSC thinks they should, it should not stop you from taking the necessary precautions on the road. Make sure everyone in your vehicle buckles up once they get in, wear a helmet if you take your motorcycle out and warrant caution to those pedestrians whether they are in a crosswalk or not. Prioritizing safe driving actions will bring us one step closer to getting under a thousand motor vehicle fatalities per year.