Traffic fatalities in the U.S. have been trending in a worrisome direction—and Philly is no exception. Philly saw its worst year in recent history for fatal car crashes in 2020. Aggressive driving and risky driving behaviors—unfortunate side effects of coronavirus restrictions—appear to be major contributing factors in these tragedies.
Philly has one of the highest auto-fatality rates in the nation. In 2017, Philadelphia was the fifth-most populous city in the U.S. and its auto-fatality rates were over two times as high as that of New York City.
This recent spike in traffic fatalities comes 24 years after Philly’s most tragic year in 1997 when 137 individuals were killed. Although heavily congested roadways saw a reduction in auto usage in 2020, deaths caused by traffic accidents in Philly are up by 60% (according to Bicycle Coalition data).
The unusual increase in fatal crashes may be attributed to several reasons: the temporary decrease in motor vehicle usage, speeding, and increased alcohol consumption under coronavirus restrictions. This increase comes despite Philly’s efforts to achieve a goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030. With traffic death rates increasing, further awareness is needed of the ongoing efforts to prevent accident injuries and fatalities.
Current Initiatives to Decrease Traffic Fatalities
The Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia has long advocated for traffic safety improvements and safer street infrastructure to prevent deadly car crashes. In 2017, Vision Zero was implemented by Mayor James F. Kenney to reduce traffic deaths to zero by 2030.
The coronavirus pandemic reduced the overall number of vehicles on Philadelphia roadways. Emptier streets allowed the remaining drivers to reach higher traffic speeds. It is possible drivers felt much more comfortable driving recklessly with fewer vehicles on the road.
The current 2025 Vision Zero action plan focuses on changing the behavior of drivers. The plan outlines efforts to reduce speed on Philly’s roads by installing infrastructure that encourages drivers to move more slowly and to follow safe driving behaviors.
With plans to design streets meant to promote pedestrian safety, Vision Zero gathered data as part of their High Injury Network (HJN) to isolate the most dangerous roadways. Vision Zero’s HJN is comprised of “the corridors across the city on which fatal crashes and crashes that result in severe injury occur with the most frequency”.
Previous crash data collected from 2012 to 2016 revealed that fifty percent of all motor accident fatalities and severe injuries occurred on just 12% of Philadelphia streets. Data from 2014 to 2018, however, has found that Philly’s known dangerous roads were home to 80% of traffic deaths and injuries.
Speed is a fundamental predictor of crash survival, no matter how Philadelphia residents choose to travel. Roosevelt Boulevard, one of the most dangerous roads, is frequented by motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians alike. Efforts to curb speeding caused by aggressive driving, reckless driving, drunk driving, and distracted driving seek to prevent traffic related deaths.
How Philadelphia’s Car Accident Trends Compare with the Rest of the U.S.
Although an overall decline was seen in 1999 through 2019, motor vehicle traffic death rates across the U.S. have increased in recent years.
U.S. traffic fatalities have trended in an alarming direction despite an overall decrease in the number of miles driven in the first seven months of 2020.
While the total number of crashes tracked by NHTSA is down modestly compared to 2019, the percentage of accidents relative to vehicle miles traveled is up. Prior to this year, the country had reached a five-year low in driver fatalities. However, car accident related deaths overall have been on the rise for much of the last decade, according to a report from the Governors Highway Safety Association.
Across the U.S., the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) identified risky driving behaviors such as failure to wear a seatbelt, speeding, and drinking while driving as contributing factors to this recent spike in fatal motor vehicle crashes. While Americans drove considerably less in 2020 due to the pandemic, NHTSA’s early estimates show that an estimated 38,680 people died in motor vehicle traffic crashes—the largest projected number of fatalities since 2007.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic did not appear to reduce the number of traffic deaths across the U.S., Philadelphia is not unique in its recent increase in traffic fatalities. It is one of only 40 U.S. cities to adopt Vision Zero policies to reduce preventable traffic deaths.
Philadelphians can access commonly requested crash and fatality information as well as create their own custom searches with the Pennsylvania Crash Information Tool.
If you or a loved one has suffered an injury as a result of a car accident, contact a Philadelphia car accident lawyer at The Rothenberg Law Firm LLP about your options, as you may be eligible to seek compensation for your injuries.