EDITORIAL: A reminder about safety on Pa. roads

York Dispatch
South Western high-school student Leah Collins created the winning billboard design, which is displayed along Route 94 South, just north of Hanover, in the "No Excuses: Youth Traffic Safety Billboard Contest," sponsored by the Center for Traffic Safety, Thursday, April 18, 2018. John A. Pavoncello

Pennsylvania’s highways, at their best, can be scenic and splendid. Long stretches along the state’s many waterways or through large swaths of farmland can make for pleasant, picturesque commutes.

Too often, however, they are also challenging, traffic-clogged and downright dangerous. Roads such as Interstate 83 can be bumper-to-bumper racetracks complicated by too-short exit ramps, lack of adequate shoulder space and the state’s ubiquitous surfeit of tractor-trailers.

Add inclement weather or any kind of roadwork and it becomes clear why detours or downright closures of main thoroughfares are a weekly, sometimes almost daily, occurrence.

So it should go without saying that drivers need to keep their eyes on the road, their hands on the wheel and their heads in the game when taking to the streets.

It should, but it does not. As charges brought this month in a traffic fatality from October show, too many motorists continue to ignore the hazards of distracted driving.

More:Police: Driver in fatal I-81 crash was watching football game

Police say 34-year-old trucker Kevin Markay Souriyavong of Chambersburg was watching a football game on his smartphone while behind the wheel when he struck and killed a 56-year-old motorcyclist on Interstate 81. He faces a slew of charges, including vehicular homicide, reckless driving and several other violations.

The case is far from an isolated incident. Police in March charged a Springettsbury Township man with homicide by vehicle and other infractions following a fatal April 2017 crash. Police say the 21-year-old driver was using his cellphone’s GPS when he ran a stop sign and caused a crash that killed the 77-year-old driver of another vehicle.

More:Springettsbury Twp. man accused in fatal Spring Garden crash

In fact, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration cites distracted driving as causing nearly 3,500 traffic fatalities in 2015 and some 390,000 injuries. These figures are all the more startling when considering that distracted driving is notoriously under-reported.

The danger has not gone unnoticed locally. York City declared April Distracted Driving Awareness Month, formally urging residents to set aside those technology and media devices that too often elicit Pavlovian responses from users.

More:Hanover student brings awareness to distracted driving

"We know for a fact that the brain is designed to focus on one thing at a time," said Barb Zortman, director of the county’s Center for Traffic Safety.

The center also holds an annual “No Excuses: Youth Traffic Safety Billboard Contest.” This year’s winner was South Western High School sophomore Leah Collins, whose billboard, “Distracted. Impacted,” was displayed in the 1300 block of Route 94 South.

And, of course, the York County Center for Traffic Safety has long battled the scourge.

Still, despite all this attention, the message has been lost on too many drivers.

So a reminder: State law prohibits the use of any wireless phone, laptop computer or other communications device while driving. Common sense ought to do the same.

And keep in mind that distractions need not be caused by technological devices. Eating, fiddling with the radio, rubbernecking — any activity that takes one’s eyes and mind off the road is a potential hazard.

Pennsylvania’s roads can be daunting enough; don’t add to stress levels, accident counts or NHTSA statistics through distracted driving.