Pennsylvania Police Launch I-81 Truck Safety Initiative

FMCSA and PMTA Partnership Aims to Reduce Number of Highway Crashes
Pennsylvania cop directs traffic
A police officer directs traffic from a detour on I-95 after a section of a bridge collapsed in June in Philadelphia. (Hannah Beier/Bloomberg News)

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There have been more than 5,000 crashes on Interstate 81 in the last five years, according to the Pennsylvania State Police.

Pennsylvania accounts for 1,600 of those crashes, second to only Virginia. I-81 begins in Tennessee, then passes through Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania before finally culminating at the Canadian border in New York.

Of those 1,600 crashes, 42 were fatal.

“These aren’t just statistics, these are people,” Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration Deputy Administrator Earl Adams said at a news conference on July 11. “They’re people with families, they’re people with plans. They’re going on vacation, they’re going to work. They’re doing something with someone they love.”

According to State Police Maj. Robert Krol, causes for fatal crashes include speeding, driving too fast for weather conditions, following too closely, illegal lane changes and driving while distracted or impaired.

“Keeping the roads of the commonwealth safe is a core mission of the Pennsylvania State Police,” he said. “One of our more difficult tasks for the Pennsylvania State Police for troopers is to inform a family member that a loved one has died unexpectedly as a result of a crash.”

As a response to the high volume of crashes, the state police launched an initiative with the Federal Motor Carrier Association and the Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association to conduct extra patrols and proactive traffic enforcement. The initiative focuses on the busy summer travel months of June, July and August.


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“The goal is to gain voluntary compliance with the highway safety laws to protect all of us, with your family in mind,” Krol said. “All highway users should keep safe driving in mind during the five-day enforcement periods.”

There were two five-day enforcement periods in June, during which state police troopers conducted 1,154 traffic stops on I-81, Krol said. Those stops resulted in 1,322 traffic citations and 119 written warnings.

“There’s a need to appeal to all of our drivers to focus on driving safety on our highways,” he said. “Please drive responsibly.”

Commercial truck safety was also a focal point of a news conference July 11, which was held at I-81’s southbound rest stop near the Newville exit.

“You were never taught how to drive around a tractor-trailer,” said Bob Dolan of the state Motor Truck Association.

Dolan said the best way to pass a tractor-trailer is always on the left side of it. Dolan also said not to loiter on the front left side or right side of a tractor-trailer due to their blind spots.

“When you see us going down the highway, we’re sitting up there 6, 7, 8 feet up high,” he said. “So you think our presentation, being able to see out there is very, very easy. You think we have optimal vision, but in reality, we don’t.”

Pennsylvania snow plow on I-81

A Pennsylvania DOT snow plow works to clear an I-81 off ramp during a blizzard in Harrisburg, Pa. (Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press)

Dolan also said vehicles should leave at least 20 feet of space in front of and at least 30 feet of space behind tractor-trailers when passing them.

“Think about the size and the weight difference between a car and a tractor-trailer,” he said. “For me, to stop an 80,000-pound tractor-trailer, 55 mph on a nice dry concrete smooth surface on a nice, sunny day like this is going to take me more than the length of a football field to stop that truck.”

I-81 is a vital highway to commercial drivers due to the long list of cities through which it passes. In Pennsylvania alone, the highway passes through Scranton, Wilkes-Barre, Hazleton, Harrisburg, Carlisle, Shippensburg and Chambersburg.

“Since the pandemic, our country has shown a need to move goods faster to the destination,” Dolan said. “This corridor is a great asset to this movement of our freight system.”

The Motor Carrier Safety Association has contributed roughly $71 million to motor carrier assistance programs in the last year, $16.5 million of it to Pennsylvania.

“We’re very proud to continue to support all of Pennsylvania’s efforts,” Adams said. “Great work is happening in Pennsylvania as we try to reduce crashes and fatalities.”

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