2019 marked the lowest number of road deaths in Pennsylvania since the commonwealth started collecting such data. It is also worth recalling that 2019 was pre-COVID, meaning that the record was set independent of the drop in travel on the nation’s roadways ushered in by the onset of the global novel coronavirus pandemic.
The year brought just 1,059 deaths on the state’s roadways. And, while a four-figure death toll for a year might hardly seem like a reason to celebrate, the number actually represents an 11% drop from 2018’s 1,190 road fatalities and continues a trend that has been ongoing in Pennsylvania for the past 15 years.
The decrease also came at a time when Pennsylvanians had been driving more than ever. As a general rule, it would be easy to attribute a drop in traffic deaths to drivers driving fewer miles. But Pennsylvania drivers put 1.7 billion more miles on their vehicles in 2019 than 2018. That discrepancy has experts puzzled.
“That’s the real difference, not just a statistical fluke,” says Ken Kolosh who manages statistics for the National Safety Council. “There has to be reason behind it. We just don’t know it yet.” Pennsylvania has also seen fewer pedestrian deaths over time, with 2019’s 154 representing a 23.3% decrease over last year. Kolosh wonders if part of the reason might be due to the enhanced life-saving abilities of today’s first responders. “In general, if you look at very long-term trends, our roads are incrementally getting safer,” he says. “Our medical responses are getting better. People who may have died 10 years ago may now be saved.” However, of the national trend toward higher and higher numbers of pedestrian deaths, Kolosh laments the increase. “We’re really not sure why pedestrian deaths have in general been on the way up.”