News reports today indicated that while most states are seeing fewer and fewer deaths on the highways, Pennsylvania was one of the few states that saw deaths rise during the past year.
More than 1,300 people died on Pennsylvania highways last year.
It is not clear why Pennsylvania was out of step with most other states in reducing fatalities. Some think it has to do with Pennsylvania's rather lax seat belt law which only permits police officers to issue citations if they discover a driver is not wearing a seat belt in the course of a traffic stop for some other reason. Many other states allow officers to do random checks for seat belt use with no separate reason to stop the vehicle.
Drunk driving is always a prime cause of many highway fatalities, but there is no reason to think that the problem is greater in Pennsylvania than in other states where that enforcement is more lax here.
One distinguishing feature in Pennsylvania might be the mountainous terrain that intersects some of our major highways such as the Turnpike and Interstate 80.
Pennsylvania remains one of the busiest trucking routes in the country since it sits as a geographic link between the very populous northeast and the heartland of the country. The Turnpike and Interstate 80 are two of the heaviest traveled truck roads in the country.
Certainly our office has been involved over the years in a number of highway fatalities involving drunk drivers, trucking accidents and general wrongful death claims related to automobile use.
As a result, many of the trucking fatalities we have handled over the years happened on either the Turnpike or Interstate 80. Regardless of where they occur, trucking accidents involve many special rules that lawyers must be familiar with. The federal government heavily regulates interstate trucking, and legal cases are often won or lost based on whether you can prove a violation of one of those safety rules.
Truck drivers are required to keep detailed logs to prove that they did not exceed federal limits on driving time. Also, maintenance logs on the truck and global tracking systems sometimes become key bits of evidence in trucking cases.
In highway fatalities involving regular automobiles, accident reconstruction experts are often critical to deciding whether we have good grounds for a wrongful death claim. Those experts can look at thinks such as skid marks, vehicle damage, and roadway debris and figure out how fast a vehicle was going and where the point of impact occurred. These facts can be very important in determining who was at fault for an accident.
We certainly hope that Pennsylvania reverses the trend and joins other states in lowering highway fatalities. Unfortunately, as long as there are careless drivers, there will be fatal accidents.