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The Sure-Kill Expressway and its Tributaries: Traffic Accidents in Eastern PA

Philly folks, you all know which road I’m talking about when I say, “the Sure-Kill Expressway”; you know I mean the Schuylkill. For non-locals, that’s I-76, the Schuylkill Expressway, and it’s named after the river that bisects our great City of Brotherly Love—Philadelphia, the home of William Penn and Benjamin Franklin.

Anyone who’s ever driven more than a minute on the Schuylkill, the Blue Route, the Vine Street Expressway, or Roosevelt Boulevard knows how bad things can get around here. Horrific accidents. Delays that redefine the meaning of “delay.” Pure bloomin’ idiots doing stupid things. Sitting in traffic for so many hours, by the time you get home, it’s time to get ready and go back to work.

Okay, that last one is an exaggeration. But at least one writer has called the Schuylkill the worst commute in America. That might be debatable, and it’s not backed up by statistics. However, the dreadfulness of Philadelphia’s commute and traffic are ranked number 15, number 11, or number 14, depending on your source for the worst places in the U.S. While Philly’s vilest commute ever can’t top China’s 12-day, 62-mile traffic jam, our accidents are very real. Deadly real, you might say. One survey has ranked Philadelphia fourth in terms of how likely it is you will be in an accident. Turns out your chances of having an accident in Philly are 61.2% higher than the U.S. average. We were beat only by Baltimore, MD; Washington, DC; and—perhaps no surprise—Boston, MA, which took the dubious top honors.

No, the Philadelphia area is not the worst in the country, though we’re close. Let’s take a look at some recent numbers and research covering various categories to back this up, and perhaps throw a little scare into you to think about the next time you are tempted to speed “just a little” on the Schuylkill, or run that yellow light on Roosevelt Boulevard or Street Road.

The Lay of the Land

We’ve got a lot of traffic arteries in the greater Philadelphia area. If you are new to the area, you’ll want to use a map to locate these.

Here are the interstate roads:

  • I-76, also known as the Schuylkill Expressway (I-76 farther west becomes the Pennsylvania Turnpike)
  • I-95, also known as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway
  • I-276, also known as (a part of) the Pennsylvania Turnpike
  • I-476, around 20 miles of which in Delaware and Montgomery counties is known as the Blue Route (though no road signs designate it as such)
  • I-476, north of the Blue Route, is known as the Northeast Extension (of the Pennsylvania Turnpike)
  • I-676, the Vine Street Expressway, which cuts through the heart of Philadelphia.

Here are the U.S. numbered roads:

  • Route 1, sections of which are known as the Ware Memorial Highway, Baltimore Pike, Roosevelt Expressway, Roosevelt Boulevard, and Martin Luther King Jr. Expressway
  • Route 13, also known as the Bristol Pike
  • Route 30, also known as the Coatesville-Downingtown Bypass and the Exton Bypass
  • Route 202, also known as the West Chester Bypass and the Doylestown Bypass
  • Route 322, also known as the Conchester Highway
  • Route 422, also known as the Pottstown Expressway.

Finally, we have the state numbered roads, such as 63 (Veterans Memorial Road), 100 (Pottstown Pike), 309 (Ft. Washington Expressway), and 611 (Doylestown Bypass), to say nothing of other heavily trafficked streets such as Girard Avenue and Street Road.

The Numbers Game: What Does It Show?

Over 32,700 people died across the United States in traffic accidents during 2013, with about one-third of the crashes rooted in alcohol-impaired driving. For the year 2013 in all of Pennsylvania, vehicular crashes took 1,208 lives, with that number roughly evenly split between urban and rural areas. The number represents accidents involving cars, pickup trucks and SUVs, large trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians. The number of motorcycle fatalities was 178, and pedestrian deaths amounted to 147. Single-vehicle crashes, 54 percent of all deaths, numbered 655.

Seat belt compliance for our state runs about 84 percent; a bit more than one-third of all deaths (422) had unrestrained occupants in the car. In crashes where alcohol was involved, 200 were estimated to have had a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.08 or higher, 0.08 BAC being the legal definition of driving under the influence. That’s roughly 32 percent of the 620 drivers who died in accidents during 2013. However, speed was the number one contributing factor in fatal crashes statewide. (Note than an accident can have more than one contributing factor.)

While all of the percentages weren’t too far off the overall averages for all of the United States, Pennsylvania had somewhat higher figures, per 100 million vehicle miles traveled (VMT), for both overall fatalities and alcohol-impaired driving fatalities.

For the city of Philadelphia in 2013, the number of fatal traffic accidents was 84, with 18 of them involving alcohol. The total number of fatalities was 89; 40 pedestrians were killed. Accidents, as you might expect, were clustered around certain major routes. The worst days for accidents were Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and the worst months were May, July, and September, with October close behind.

Traffic fatalities for the same year for the area’s counties stacked up this way:

  • Philadelphia County: 24
  • Chester County: 14
  • Berks County: 13
  • Bucks County: 11
  • Montgomery County: 10
  • Delaware County: 6.

Next, we’ll delve a little deeper into the data with regard to specific local roads.

Fatal Crash Hot Spots

The old “Sure-Kill Expressway” name is truer than you might think. For the period 2011-2013, at least 13 fatal accidents (the actual number of fatalities could be higher or lower) occurred on the Schuylkill. But what might be surprising to you are the numbers of fatal accidents on other major roads for the same time period:

  • I-95 from the Ben Franklin Bridge north to I-276 had at least 16 fatal accidents.
  • I-95 from the Ben Franklin Bridge south to the Delaware border had at least 13 fatal accidents.
  • I-276 from the Bristol Pike to the junction with I-76 had 11 fatal accidents.
  • The Northeast Extension as far as Ridge Road had at least 6 fatal accidents.
  • The Blue Route had 3 fatal accidents.
  • The Vine Street Expressway had one fatal accident, in 2012.

However, Route 1 from the Schuylkill Expressway to I-276 had at least 33 fatal accidents. That’s right—Route 1 was the winner when it came to deadly accidents from 2011-2013.

Aggressive Driving and Pedestrian Accident Hot Spots and Cold Spots

The City of Philadelphia’s crash data—all reported crashes from 2008-2012—were analyzed in 2014 with regard to aggressive driving hot spots on non-interstate roads. The study produced a map with cold spots as well as hot spots. Clusters appeared, pinpointing Roosevelt Boulevard, the infamous Route 1 previously mentioned for having 33 fatal accidents, as being a prime hot spot. Other hot spots on the map include City Line Avenue and streets near the interchanges of I-676 and the Ben Franklin Bridge. Cold spots? They were largely Chinatown, the Rittenhouse Square/Center City West area, and the East Passayunk neighborhood. The study speculates that higher numbers of pedestrians and generally slower speeds in these areas might serve to deter aggressive driving.

The same study looked at pedestrian accident clusters. Two of the neighborhoods that were cold spots for aggressive driving, Chinatown and the Rittenhouse Square/Center City West area, were also cold spots for pedestrian accidents. (East Passayunk did not appear to have significant hot spot or cold spot clusters.) It’s possible, the study’s authors wrote, that high pedestrian activity reduces aggressive driving, and yet somehow does not bring about increased pedestrian accidents.

Intersection Accidents

Back in 2001, two of Philadelphia’s intersections landed on a ten worst list. Guess what? They were both on Roosevelt Boulevard—Red Lion Road and Grant Road. And in 2014, a Bensalem intersection was ranked as the deadliest in the U.S., where Street Road and Knights Road cross. On a one-mile portion of Street Road that includes this intersection, 170 people died or were injured in the two years leading up to a 2008 traffic audit.

As you might expect, many surface roads had intersection fatalities. Northeast and North Philly surface roads had well over a dozen fatal accidents from 2011-2013. With respect to major roads, Route 1 had at least 11 fatal intersection-specific accidents, and Route 611 from I-76 to Route 1 had 9 fatal accidents.

Speeding and Fatal Accidents

We’ve already mentioned that speeding was the most common contributing factor statewide in 2013 when it comes to fatal accidents. Accident maps show significant clusters of speeding fatalities on I-95, Route 322, and nearby areas in the greater Chester area due to speeding. Other area roads with a significant number of fatal accidents because of speeding include the Schuylkill Expressway (approximately 5 from 2011-2013), and our old friend Route 1, with 16 fatal accidents in the stretch from the Schuylkill to I-276.

Humans, Not Machines, the Major Reason for Crashes

The major causes of accidents in Philadelphia and eastern PA are similar to the rest of the U.S.—in other words, human error. A number of studies have consistently placed the blame for auto accidents squarely on drivers in nine out of ten crashes.

We’ve already delved into some of the usual reasons of accidents in our area, but here’s a full list of the most common causes:

  • Aggressive driving
  • Speeding
  • Driving under the influence
  • Distracted driving (which often involves texting or cell phones)
  • Fatigue (as in the recent July 5 crash that caused massive backups on I-95 because a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel)
  • Other driver negligence (driving significantly under the limit, failure to signal, failure to yield, illegal passing, and tailgating)
  • Bad weather and the failure to adjust our driving to it.

Weather is worth a quick mention, although there are no recent statistics to point toward for the Philadelphia area. But it’s important to note that some of the worst accidents we suffer around here, while having more than one contributing factor, to be sure, are rooted in bad weather. Icy roads one Sunday during January, 2015, claimed at least three lives and injured scores of others on I-76, I-95, I-476, and on, of course, Roosevelt Boulevard.

Whatever you do and wherever you drive, please be careful out there!

How We Can Help

Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher & Miller has more than 40 years of experience representing people hurt in car accidents, and the families of those killed by negligent drivers. We understand how to pursue justice for our clients and how to hold people accountable for their actions. It’s difficult to put a price tag on a family’s pain and suffering, or the loss of a loved one, but the law at least allows families to hold negligent drivers accountable for their actions.

Too often, insurance policies offer inadequate payouts for people injured in a vehicular accident. Insurance investigators have been known to look for every opportunity to avoid paying a claim. From the moment someone files a claim of injury, investigators may start monitoring that person to see if they can raise questions about whether the injuries are truly severe. That’s why it’s important to get legal help right away if you’ve been injured in a car accident.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a car accident in Pennsylvania or New Jersey, please contact Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher & Miller today to schedule a free initial consultation with one of our experienced car accident lawyers. Either complete our online form  or call us at (800) 529-6600. If transportation is an issue, our Pennsylvania auto accident attorneys will come to you. Wapner, Newman, Wigrizer, Brecher & Miller  has offices in Philadelphia, West Conshohocken, Allentown, and New Jersey.