For the third time in four years, traffic deaths rose by 2.25% in 2023, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Department of Transportation.

The statistics showed 1,209 deaths in motor vehicle crashes last year, up from 1,179 in 2022. That bucks the trend in national numbers released last month by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which estimated a 3.6% decline in traffic deaths across the country in 2023.

“Even one traffic fatality is one too many,” PennDOT Secretary Mike Carroll said in a news release. “Traffic deaths are preventable, but we need your help. Safety on our roadways is a shared responsibility. We can only get to zero fatalities with everyone working together.”

Like in many parts of the country, traffic deaths in Pennsylvania increased during the pandemic in 2020 and 2021 as experts said many remaining drivers took advantage of reduced traffic and decreased enforcement to engage in dangerous driving activities such as impaired driving, distracted driving, speeding and driving without seatbelts. Deaths were down in 2022, but last year Pennsylvania saw an increase, particularly in several concerning areas.

For example:

  • Motorcycle deaths reached a 20-year high 238 last year, up from 217 in 2022.
  • Deaths involving nonmotorized vehicles, including bicyclists and pedestrians, rose from 199 in 2022 to 222 last year.
  • Fatalities in head-on or side-swipe crashes increased to 197, a 15-year high and up from 181 in 2022.
  • Lane-departure crashes resulted in 606 deaths, the most in five years and up from 568 the previous year.

The department said it has taken or is beginning steps to address all those areas through its safety programs. For example, it offers free motorcycle safety courses for beginning and advanced riders; installed high-friction surfaces to help drivers stay in their lanes; completed a federally funded study last year to identify dangerous areas for bikers and walkers and will concentrate spending funds in those areas; and will begin this year a three-year, $850,000 safety education program funded by NHTSA to reduce nonmotorized vehicle deaths by teaching all types of travelers the rules of the road.

Overall, the state spends about $29 million a year in federal funds devoted to driver behavioral safety programs.

Some areas also showed improvement last year, including:

  • Drunken driving deaths dropped from 286 in 2022 to 265 last year, which the department attributed to $6 million it spent on impaired driving enforcement.
  • Deaths at signalized intersections came in at 117, down from 133 in 2022, helped by the department investing $14 million to improve 779 intersections last year, including pedestrian countdown indicators.
  • Fatalities involving drivers and passengers not wearing seat belts, 316, were the lowest since the agency began keeping statistics, but it said that could be lower since 92% of those killed in passenger vehicles could have survived if they had been wearing seat belts.

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at

Ed Blazina

Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at