By Howard Frank, December 1, 2013
On the roads, speed kills. But alcohol is more lethal.
That's one of the many lessons drawn from the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's report, "2012 Pennsylvania Crash Facts and Statistics."
While fatal vehicle crashes have trended downward statewide over the past five years, speed and alcohol remain the deadliest ingredients.
Nearly four people were killed every day in traffic crashes statewide last year.
That's one death every six hours and 41 minutes.
One person was injured every six minutes.
Excessive speed killed more than twice as many people as any other contributing factor. Drunken driving was the next largest.
No other factors were even close.
If speed kills, alcohol leaves fewer survivors.
While alcohol-related crashes and deaths have fallen since 2007, such crashes still account for about one in 10 crashes in the state.
But those crashes are more likely to be fatal.
In fact, alcohol-related crashes were 4.2 times more likely to result in death than crashes unrelated to alcohol, according to the report.
The figures paint a grim picture — alcohol is involved in one out of every three deaths from crashes.
Traveling in a car driven by someone drunk was particularly hazardous. You were six times more likely to die than if the driver was sober.
One of every 44 Pennsylvanians was involved in a crash last year.
Motorists traveled about 100.2 billion vehicle-miles on Pennsylvania's roads.
The 2012 fatality rate of 1.31 deaths per hundred million vehicle-miles of travel was the fourth lowest ever recorded in Pennsylvania since the department started keeping records of this in 1935.
But the rest of the country has made gains too, and the state is falling behind.
In 2011, 1.27 people in Pennsylvania died per 100 million miles driven. The U.S. rate in 2011 was 1.1.
The state continued to trend poorly last year, its fatality rate rising to 1.31 in 2012.
The good, bad and ugly
The vast majority of the state's 124,092 crashes were not fatal.
Most of those involved in crashes weren't injured, and those who were injured suffered minor injuries, according to the report.
Fatal crashes climbed slightly last year but fell significantly over the past five years.
Unfortunately, the same can't be said of pedestrian deaths. Those have trended up sharply over the past five years, rising 18 percent over the five-year period beginning with 2008 and accounting for 168 deaths in 2012.
Motorcycle deaths and injuries were down, although just slightly over the five years between 2008 and 2012. But bicycle deaths statewide doubled from eight in 2008 to 16 in 2012.
The decline in fatal crashes can be partially attributable to fewer vehicles on the road. But there have also been fewer fatalities per mile driven in the five years studied.
The total of vehicle miles driven, measured in billions, dropped from 108.4 billion to 100.2 in 2012.
And while 8 percent fewer miles were driven between 2008 and 2012, the fatality rate per billion miles driven dropped more slowly, at just 3 percent.
"There are too many variables involved in crashes to determine the reasons," PennDOT spokesman Ron Young said. "With that said, some of the factors that may have played a role are: increased seat belt usage; highway safety education initiatives; safer vehicles; and law enforcement initiatives."
Pennsylvanians drove more miles in 2008 than any year since 1945. That number continued to drop through 2012.
PennDOT estimated crashes cost the state almost $15 billion last year, or $1,164 for every man, woman and child in the state.
Trees don't move
The most common type of crash — almost one out of three — involved a single vehicle hitting a fixed object, like a tree or guard rail. And those made up four out of every 10 deaths.
Crashes into trees claimed about one of five crash fatalities. Crashes into guiderails, embankments and utility poles accounted for one out of 10 deaths each.
More than half of all crashes and fatalities involved a passenger car. SUVs, vans and light trucks were involved in one of three crashes and one of four deaths.
Motorcycles accounted for the third most deaths.
Age and sex matters
Men were involved in more crashes than female drivers. Three out of four of the drinking drivers in crashes were male. And the older the driver, the fewer the crashes, the report showed.
More than one of every 10 drivers between 16 and 21 were involved in crashes last year. That's by far the most of any other age group.
Multi-vehicle crashes were more frequent than single-vehicle crashes for this age group. The authors speculated that distracted driving played an important role.
It's when you drive
The seriousness of crashes varied widely by month.
June turned out to be the deadliest month for Pennsylvania motorists, making up one out of every 10 deaths.
And while December accounted for the most crashes — also one out of every 10 — it only accounted for 7 percent of the deaths, the third least deadly month of the year.
Weekends were the most lethal time of the week. Saturdays and Sunday crashes accounted for the most vehicle deaths, respectively, while Fridays experienced the most crashes but just the third most deaths.
The pre-rush hour period of 3 to 5 p.m. were by far the busiest times for crashes. The 3 to 4 p.m. hour was the deadliest.
If you want to stay safe, plan to drive between 4 and 5 a.m. That hour saw the fewest crashes and fewest deaths.