In name of safety, police in 11 states to increase Interstate 80 patrols

Goal is to promote safe driving on the 2,900-mile-long highway

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Pedal-to-the-metal will not be a very good plan for drivers on Interstate 80, in Pennsylvania or anywhere else, starting Wednesday.

An unusual multistate enforcement campaign will put extra police patrols along I-80 from New Jersey to California. Called the "I-80 Challenge," the campaign has a goal of zero fatalities through the end of the month.

The program, which uses the slogan "More Cops, More Stops," was conceived by the Iowa Department of Public Safety after crash data showed summer to be the deadliest season on I-80 there, according to an announcement by Pennsylvania State Police.

Trooper Michelle McGee said state police will step up patrols for the week. The goal isn't so much to issue bushels of tickets, but rather to increase police visibility to get people to drive safely, she said.

PG graphic: I-80 goal: zero fatalities
(Click image for larger version)

Police will focus on speeding, driving under the influence, nonuse of seat belts and distracted driving.

I-80 runs for 2,900 miles from Teaneck, N.J., to San Francisco, including 311 miles in Pennsylvania. Police in all 11 states through which the highway passes are participating in the campaign, as is the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, the nation's truck safety watchdog.

From 2008 through 2012, there were 6,099 reportable crashes and 102 fatalities along I-80 in Pennsylvania, including 18 deaths last year, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation.

Various data point to July as the deadliest month for drivers here and across the U.S.

July was the top month for traffic deaths in Pennsylvania in two of the past three years. Last year, however, it fell to sixth, according to PennDOT.

July brought the most fatalities on U.S. highways in 2011 with 3,149, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

Jonathan Adkins, spokesman for the nonprofit Governors Highway Safety Association based in Washington, D.C., said enforcement has been "the only thing we've had any success with" in getting motorists to slow down.

"The public doesn't see speeding as a safety issue," he said.

To be effective, campaigns like the I-80 Challenge have to be repeated and be visible, he said. Vacation season "is absolutely a good time to do it," Mr. Adkins said.

The transportation bill approved by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama last year allows states to pool their funding for efforts like the I-80 Challenge. "I expect to see more of these enforcement campaigns," he said.

According to news reports, there have been at least seven fatalities on I-80 this month, including one in Pennsylvania, in a truck crash Wednesday near Lock Haven in Clinton County. Other fatal crashes were reported in Illinois, Nebraska and most recently in Utah, where two women died in a head-on collision on Saturday.

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Jon Schmitz: or 412-263-1868. Visit the PG's transportation blog, The Roundabout, at Twitter: @pgtraffic.


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