It’s No “Accident:” Driver Behavior Is the Leading Cause of Crashes Statewide

damaged cars after a crash

In May, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) released its traffic fatality data for 2023. The data revealed some notable—and, in many cases, startling—statistics.

For example:

  • In total, 1,209 people died in traffic crashes in Pennsylvania in 2023
  • The number of traffic-related fatalities increased by about 2.5% from 2022 to 2023
  • 316 traffic fatalities involved people who weren’t wearing seatbelts
  • Pedestrian and bicyclist deaths increased by nearly 12% from 2022 to 2023
  • In 2023, motorcyclist fatalities hit the highest number in two decades at 238 deaths
  • Head-on and opposite-direction side-swipe crash fatalities hit a 15-year high at 197
  • Lane departure-related crash fatalities hit a five-year high at 606 deaths

Perhaps most alarming of all, the data revealed that the leading factor in more than 80% of all traffic crashes in Pennsylvania is driver behavior. This can hardly be called “accidental.” In fact, PennDOT maintains that, rather than “accidents,” these incidents should be referred to as crashes or collisions, as they are nearly always preventable.

The Deadly Cost of Driver Negligence

PennDOT identified several key driving behaviors that largely contributed to the overall number of traffic-related fatalities last year.

These factors include:

  • Impaired Driving: Impaired driving refers to driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, as well as driving while intoxicated. There are subtle differences between these two behaviors. Driving while intoxicated indicates that a motorist is at or above the legal blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit of 0.08% and is, therefore, automatically considered to be unable to safely operate a motor vehicle. Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs occurs when a person is unable to safely operate a vehicle because of an impairing substance, regardless of the person’s BAC. Both behaviors are extremely dangerous. Making the choice to get behind the wheel after consuming any amount of alcohol or any impairing substance, legal or not, is not only negligent but reckless.
  • Distracted Driving: Distracted driving is one of the biggest problems on our roads today. Cellphones, vehicle infotainment systems, vehicle controls, billboards, and even passengers can all be highly distracting, causing drivers to direct their attention away from the road. The consequences of this can be severe; glancing at a cellphone to read a text message for just five seconds while traveling at a speed of 55 mph is essentially the same as driving the length of an entire football field with your eyes closed. Yet, tens of thousands of motorists choose to drive distracted every single day. In Pennsylvania, distracted driving is extremely common—and extremely dangerous.
  • Speeding: Speeding is among the leading causes of traffic-related fatalities, not only in Pennsylvania, but nationwide. The risks of speeding are twofold: first, motorists who drive faster than posted speed limits, which are determined based on what is both safe and reasonable, are more likely to lose control of their vehicles or be unable to stop in time to avoid a collision. Second, crashes are far more likely to result in severe bodily injury and death when they occur at high speeds. This is due to the immense forces at play. Even relatively small increases in speed can lead to significant increases in crash energy, which enhances the degree of destruction likely to occur in the event of a collision.

While these three issues represent the top factors in serious injury and fatal crashes in Pennsylvania, they are not the only examples of driver negligence. Others include disobeying traffic laws, disregarding traffic signals and signs, making unsafe driving maneuvers, engaging in reckless or aggressive behaviors, road rage, and driving while fatigued or drowsy.

Staying Safe on the Road: What You Can Do

In response to the issue of widespread driver negligence, the state has invested nearly $30 million in various driving behavioral safety programs with the aim of reducing overall traffic-related injuries and deaths. The goal is to highlight the choices we make when we get behind the wheel, both their importance and their potential consequences.

Here are some things you can do to stay safe on the road:

  • Always obey all traffic laws, including posted speed limits, road signs, and traffic signals
  • Put your cellphone away while driving, and avoid other distractions like eating or drinking
  • NEVER get behind the wheel of a motor vehicle after consuming alcohol or taking a drug (prescription or otherwise) that could impair your ability to drive
  • Always wear your seatbelt and encourage others in your car to do the same
  • If you see someone driving aggressively, safely get out of their way; avoid becoming involved in road rage situations
  • Be attentive and always keep your focus on the road
  • Drive defensively (not aggressively) and share the road with other motorists, pedestrians, and bicyclists
  • Always check your blind spots before changing lanes or merging
  • Be aware of others around you; know where your fellow drivers are at all times
  • If possible, avoid driving in inclement weather, such as heavy rain, sleet, or snow
  • Always keep a safe distance between your vehicle and those around you, as well as bicyclists and pedestrians sharing the roadway

While no one means to cause a crash, the fact is that traffic collisions occur when people make careless or reckless choices. If you or someone you love was involved in a motor vehicle crash, you may have grounds for a personal injury claim. By taking legal action, you can help hold the responsible party accountable, as well as recover fair compensation for the damages and losses you have endured.

What to Do If You’re Harmed by Another Driver’s Negligence

Even when you take every precaution possible to stay safe on the road, you simply cannot control the behavior of others. It can be impossible to predict when another driver might behave negligently, making it easy to become involved in a crash for which you bear no responsibility.

When this happens, you have options.

If you were injured in the crash, you could file a personal injury claim against the at-fault driver’s insurance company. This allows you to seek financial compensation for certain accident-related damages, such as medical expenses, lost wages, and even pain and suffering. You could also be entitled to compensation for damage to your car, which can help offset the cost of vehicle repairs or replacement. However, working with insurance companies can be difficult. Adjusters often try to downplay liability or even claim that injured parties are to blame. Working with an experienced personal injury lawyer is your best bet when it comes to protecting your rights and maximizing your claim.

The earlier you reach out to an attorney, the better. Our team can work directly with the insurance company so that you can focus on healing and moving forward. What’s more, we are prepared to go to trial if the insurance company refuses to play fair. We always prioritize the needs of our clients, and we are committed to standing up for them in the aftermath of serious motor vehicle collisions.

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