There were 35 traffic-related fatalities in Luzerne County last year, more than twice the number in Lackawanna County and many more than in other area counties.
The good news is that the number represents a 14.6 percent decrease in fatal crashes since 2011, when there were 41.
The deaths in Luzerne County were among 1,310 people killed in crashes on roads throughout Pennsylvania in 2012, the third-lowest number on record and 24 more than in 2011, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.
PennDOT data from police reports also show that there were 124,062 crashes on state roadways in 2012, a decrease from 125,322 in 2011 and fewer than the 144,542 state crashes 15 years ago.
“While highway fatalities increased last year, we’re encouraged that, historically, deaths on our roadways are trending downward. However, our highway safety mission will continue,” PennDOT Secretary Barry J. Schoch said in a prepared statement. “Each life lost on our highways is someone’s relative or loved one, and we keep that in the forefront of our minds when we pursue engineering, education and enforcement tactics aimed at keeping our roads safe.”
After the December 2011 implementation of increased driving safety requirements for young drivers, signed into law by Gov. Tom Corbett, fatalities in crashes involving a 16- or 17-year-old driver decreased to 44 — 22 fewer than in 2011 and significantly fewer than the 133 such fatalities 15 years ago. The law increased behind-the-wheel training requirements, placed a limit on the number of passengers a young driver can transport and made not wearing a seat belt a primary offense for young drivers.
Corbett also signed into law a ban on text-based communication while driving, which went into effect in March 2012. PennDOT crash data shows that crashes involving drivers using phones decreased from 1,152 in 2011 to 1,096 in 2012. There were eight fatalities in those crashes and 57 fatalities in crashes involving distracted drivers in 2012.
PennDOT has invested $50 million over the last five years for safety improvements at about 4,000 locations. These include low-cost safety measures such as center-line and edge-line rumble strips, curve-related treatments, sight-distance and intersection improvements, and removing frequently hit trees and other fixed objects. PennDOT also invests about $20 million annually in state and federal funds for safety education and enforcement efforts statewide.
In March, PennDOT announced it would use part of its federal funding to help police crack down on aggressive driving behaviors such as speeding, tailgating and running red lights. A regional enforcement wave targeting distracted or drowsy drivers, as well as speeding and work zone violations, began March 18 and will continue through April 28.