Why Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities Are on Rise

March 9, 2016

The number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents is expected to have risen by as much as 10 percent when final 2015 statistics are available. That would be the biggest increase ever recorded.

The annual Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) Spotlight on Highway Safety Report provides the first look at 2015 pedestrian fatality trends, based on data reported by state highway safety agencies.

“We are projecting the largest year-to-year increase in pedestrian fatalities since national records have been kept, and therefore we are quite alarmed,” said Richard Retting, one of the report’s authors from Sam Schwartz Consulting.

Since the Fatality Analysis Reporting System was established in 1975, the year-to-year change in the number of pedestrian fatalities has varied from a 10.5 percent decrease to an 8.1 percent increase.

States reported a wide range of increases and decreases in the number of pedestrian fatalities over the first six months of 2015. Twenty-one states had decreases; 26 states and the District of Columbia reported increases; and three states had no change.

“Pedestrian safety is clearly a growing problem across the country. It is important to understand the data underlying these crashes so states and localities can apply the right mix of engineering, education and enforcement to counteract this troubling trend,” Retting said.

The report compares the number of pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2015 (2,368) with the same time period the previous year (2,232) to arrive at its 2015 full year projection.

The GHSA report aligns with one by the Government Accountability Office finding that more cyclists as well as pedestrians are now involved in traffic accidents. Pedestrians accounted for 14 percent of traffic deaths in 2013, up from 11 percent in 2004. For cyclists, those figures increased from 1.7 percent in 2004 to 2.2 percent in 2013.

Along with the increase in pedestrian fatalities, pedestrians now account for a larger share − about 15 percent of all motor vehicle crash-related deaths − compared with 11 percent a decade ago, the GHSA data show.

The GHSA report authors suggest that several factors could be contributing to this spike, including an increase in motor vehicle travel and the growing use of cell phones among walkers and drivers.

While more crashworthy vehicles protect drivers and passengers in a crash, pedestrians remain vulnerable when hit, the report notes.

Finally, the authors suggest that an increase in the number of Americans walking for health, economic or environmental reasons contributes t the rising number of fatalities.

In 2013 Census data, more than 4 million Americans said they walk to work while 860,000 said they ride a bike.

Not surprisingly, more pedestrian fatalities tend to occur in large states with large urban centers: California, Florida, Texas and New York accounted for 42 percent of all pedestrian deaths in the first six months of 2015. However, when population is taken into account, the states with the highest fatality rate per 100,000 population were all over the map. In 2014, the seven states with the highest rates were New Mexico, Florida, Delaware, Nevada, Louisiana, South Carolina and Arizona.

GHSA asked its state members to share examples of strategies for reducing pedestrian and motor vehicle collisions. They include: targeted traffic enforcement coupled with public information campaigns; data analysis and mapping to identify high-risk zones; community-based pedestrian safety assessments and road safety audits; and strategic partnerships with universities or other organizations. The report provides examples of these efforts in 28 states.

Source: Governors Highway Safety Association


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