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Traffic fatalities on the rise across US

PennDOT and other officials are sounding the alarm as they continue to see an increase in risky driving behaviors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

PENNSYLVANIA, USA — Traffic fatalities are on the rise across the United States according to a recent report released by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Between January and September of 2021, motor vehicle crashes killed close to 32,000 Americans. That's the highest nine-month figure since 2006.

“It just comes down to human behavior, and whether it’s related to a pandemic or the freedom or a shutdown that came along with that, it is a problem,” said Barbara Zortman, director of the Center for Traffic Safety in York. “And we don’t really need national statistics to tell us it’s a problem.”

That number is 12% higher than the same period in 2020. However, it’s a staggering statistic which PennDOT says may be a bit out of context since the COVID-19 pandemic turned highways into ghost towns.

“It led to obviously a huge decrease in the amount of traffic that was actually out on the road so the numbers are going to be a little bit skewed because of that,” said Fritzi Schreffler, safety press officer for PennDOT District 8.

Still, there’s no argument from local officials that there are problems on our roads. 

Zortman says the numbers don’t even begin to tell the whole story.

“We don’t see the crashes that were avoided because police issued a citation or pulled somebody over," she explained. "We don’t see any of that."

While PennDOT has yet to finalize last year’s crash data for Pennsylvania, it confirms there has definitely been in increase in the types of risky driving behaviors which lead to a majority of fatal accidents.

“We saw speeds go up, and when speeds go up you’re getting more major or fatal crashes versus something that might be a minor injury,” said Schreffler.

Statistics show aggressive and impaired driving is also on the rise.

"We all were constrained, stuck in our homes and everything was lifted, and out we went and up went the statistics as well, up went the violations, and the safety concerns,” said Zortman.

Overall, officials believe the pandemic caused traffic safety to take a backseat in many people’s minds.

However, there is hope things will improve.

“It really does take a village when it comes to this kind of thing," said Zortman. "We have to have everybody in agreement in order to see those numbers go back down, and I believe that we will."

Meanwhile, as part of its strategy to lower traffic deaths, the U.S. government is encouraging states to use federal dollars to invest in cameras which would photograph speeding vehicles on the roads.

PennDOT says such a move would have to be written into Pennsylvania law by state legislature.

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