A study of motor vehicle fatalities caused by drunk driving crashes shows that suburban counties in the Philadelphia area have some of the lowest rates of deaths caused by drunk drivers in the state over a three-year period starting in 2015.
According to figures released this month by ValuePenguin, an internet-based site for insurance and credit card consumers, despite a 17-percent decrease in DUI fatalities across the state from 2012 to 2017 some Pennsylvania counties have a driving under the influence fatality rate that is nearly four times the state average. Some counties have experienced a 50 percent to 70 percent increase in DUI fatalities, according to the ValuePenguin.com study.
But not in Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties.
Those three counties that ring the city of Philadelphia are ranked at the bottom of the DUI fatality rate among the 60 counties that the study reviewed data for. Chester County was ranked 47th, while Delaware County was ranked 55th and Montgomery County ranked 58th.
According to the ValuePenguin figures, there were 1.47 fatalities from DUI crashes in Chester County per 100,000 residents in the period of time from 2015 to 2017, the last year that figures were available, said Divya Sangam, a spokesman for ValuePenguin last week. In Delaware County, that number was 0.83 per 100,000 residents, and in Montgomery County 0.71 per 100,000 residents.
That would contrast with Susquehanna County, a rural county in the northeast part of the state with only 40,000 residents — compared with the suburban Philadelphia counties with populations between 500,000 and 800,000. The figures there show a DUI fatalities rate of 7.69 per 100,000 residents.
According to Sangam, her organization suggested several factors may be contributing to those low DUI fatality rates. They include:
• Urban areas tend to have lower DUI fatality rates. This could be due to factors like poorly lit local roads, and a lack of cellphone signal for those relying on GPS, making it harder for impaired drivers to get around.
• Enhanced enforcement due to participation in the state Department of Transportation allocation’s of $4.5 million toward crackdown on impaired driving.
• Increased ride sharing wit services like Lyft and Uber. Such trips peak at times when people are typically drinking, such as Fridays and Saturdays. This could also be a factor in urban areas where drivers are more likely to choose the ride sharing option to avoid the hunt for a parking space on a busy night, she said.
According to Charles Gaza, the chief of staff for the Chester County District Attorney’s Office who supervises the investigations of motor vehicle fatalities, the county takes a multi-faceted approach to DUIs, emphasizing both enforcement and prevention, that could be considered factors in the county’s low DUI death rate.
“We work closely with our police departments, schools, and local organizations to reach out to the community to discuss the perils of driving under the influence,” he said in a statement last week, responding to inquiries about the low death rates. “We also promote the use of designated drivers and ride-sharing apps such as Lyft and Uber. We also routinely have DUI check points throughout the county and throughout the year to make sure that people on the road are safe to drive.”
Gaza noted that in March the Westtown East Goshen Regional Police Department, alongside the Goshen Fire Department and EMS, Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital and the county Coroner’s Office, had a “mock crash” demonstration and discussion to show the students at Bayard Rustin High School what a homicide by vehicle crash looks like, and the consequences of that crash.
“While we are able to prevent many DUI fatalities through education and patrol, we still have some DUI fatalities,” Gaza said. “With the ever growing population of Chester County, we need to be aggressive in our prevention, education, and enforcement of driving under the influence. Every person who drives under the influence has the potential to cause a fatal crash.”