Distracted driving leading cause of highway accidents

“Anything that takes your hands off the wheel, your eyes off the road and your mind off the task of driving,” according to Kim Smith, safety press officer with the state Department of Transportation, constitutes distracted driving, the leading cause of automobile crashes in the state in 2017.

Distracted driving could be anything from changing the heat setting in your car to texting on your phone, she said and suggested taking care of such matters before driving begins.

But those are not the only culprits.

“Passengers in the car are a big distraction for novice drivers,” Smith said.

Accidents attributed to distracted driving were 15,630 last year.

Coming in as the second highest cause of reportable incidents in the state was alcohol-related crashes or what is commonly dubbed drunken driving. This accounted for 10,332 crashes, Smith reported.

Speeding came in as the third leading cause of accidents at 4,181.

Smith noted that sometimes the reporting could be misleading. It’s possible that a combo of those three things could be involved in causing a crash. For example, she said, someone could be intoxicated or distracted and also speeding which would increase the risk factor for a crash to happen.

On average, according to the most recent statistics from PennDOT, there were 351 reportable traffic crashes each day statewide, which averages about 15 every hour. There were three fatalities each day, which averages out to one every eight hours, and there were 221 persons injured each day or about nine persons every hour.

Based on the 2017 state population of 12.8 million, one out of every 44 people was involved in a reportable traffic crash, one out of every 11,263 people was fatally injured and one out of every 159 people was injured.

Although the number of fatalities has fallen significantly over the past 60 years, according to the department’s statistics, the economic loss due to traffic crashes amounted to $1,414 for every man, woman and child in the state.

Smith said everyone should wear seat belts when in a moving vehicle.

“You can survive any crash if you wear your seat belt,” she said.