A change in crash reporting has allowed the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to gather some concerning data: 50 percent of DUI-related crashes involved drivers who were only under the influence of drugs.

According to PennDOT officials, the state has tracked “suspected drug-related” crashes in the past, the new more robust reporting system expanded the information now tracked.

“Although PennDOT has always been able to provide ‘suspected drug related’ fatal crash statistics, a change in reporting in 2018 tracks suspected drug-related use in any crash, fatal or otherwise,” said PennDOT spokesperson Kimberly Smith. “This includes drug use in pedestrians or bicyclists. Types of drugs such as marijuana or opioids, if identified in testing, are also now tracked.”

Northumberland County Drug and Alcohol Director Manny Giorgini reacted appropriately to news he said was concerning, offering up his office phone number (570-495-2154) for anyone who is interested in treatment.

“I think the biggest takeaway is that it reminds us that there is still a lot of work to do regarding helping to get individuals into treatment,” Giorgini said.

The news was only part of the information revealed during PennDOT’s recent information session with journalists, some of it alarming and some of it less so.

Work-related crashes continued to trend upward, increasing for the second straight year.

Up-to-date 2022 crash statistics have not been finalized, but the number of fatal crashes have remained relatively stable since 2017.

The number of fatalities in those crashes has shown a decline.

In 2022, there were 51 fatalities on roads throughout the district, down 13 from the year prior and down nine compared to the year before that.

“Fifty-one is still too many,” said Kenneth Bair, assistant district executive for maintenance. “Overall, simple actions by motorists, such as obeying the regulatory speed limits, wearing seatbelts while driving, and opting to wear a helmet while riding a motorcycle, could significantly reduce our fatal crashes.”

One of the most sobering statistics the state provided as part of this information session is that 15 percent of motorists do not wear seatbelts while driving.

“At least 50 percent of the individuals killed in passenger vehicles in 2022 were not wearing seatbelts,” Bair said. “This is an alarming statistic that a small unbelted driving population represents a large proportion of the fatalities in our district.”

Not surprisingly, motorcycle crashes follow a similar vein — 75 percent of fatal crashes involved a driver not wearing their helmet.

Driving is a necessity, especially in rural areas like the Susquehanna Valley. It also can provide a tremendous amount of freedom.

The level of responsibility and safety when (or, even before) getting behind the wheel or handlebars should be commensurate.

NOTE: Opinions expressed in The Daily Item’s editorials are the consensus of the publisher, top newsroom executives and community members of the editorial board. Today’s was written by News Editor Eric Pehowic.

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