Pedestrian fatalities keep rising nationally

In 1990, the number of pedestrian traffic fatalities across the United States began a nearly 20-year decline. But then in 2009 the numbers started to shift. The number of pedestrians killed in motor vehicle crashes started increasing at a fairly rapid pace, and last year they rebounded to almost the same level they were at 30 years ago.

According to estimates compiled by the Governors Highway Safety Association, 6,227 pedestrians lost their lives in 2018. The tally was slightly below the 1990 number (6,482), but it represented a nearly 52 percent increase since 2009.

Even as pedestrian fatalities shot up over the last decade, all other traffic deaths combined fell by 6 percent. Pedestrian fatalities now account for 16 percent of all motor vehicle crash deaths, up from 12 percent in 2008.

The pedestrian deaths in 2018 also weren’t distributed evenly across the country. In comparing the first half of 2018 to the first half of 2017, the highway safety association estimated 25 states had increases in pedestrian fatalities, 23 states had decreases, and two remained the same.

Nearly half of all pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2018 were concentrated in California (432), Florida (330), Texas (298), Georgia (133), and Arizona (125). New Hampshire had only one pedestrian fatality, the lowest number of any state. Vermont (2) and Maine (3) were also on the low end. Massachusetts was in the middle of the pack, with 38 pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2018 compared to 35 in the same period in 2017.

Most pedestrian fatalities occur at night, and just over a third of them happened on local roads, with 25 percent on state highways, 16 percent on US highways, and 10 percent on interstates. Pedestrians aren’t allowed on interstate highways, so most of those deaths came about as vehicles crashed into pedestrians changing tires or stopped on the side of the road for another reason.

It’s difficult to sort out why pedestrian fatalities are rising so fast. The consensus seems to be that many factors may be contributing to the increase, including weather, smartphone use while driving, population growth, and the shift away from passenger vehicles to more deadly light trucks and SUVs. Even poverty was listed as a strong risk factor for pedestrian crashes by the highway safety association, with one study concluding that pedestrian crashes are four times more frequent in poor neighborhoods.

The highway safety association encouraged states to draw more attention to the problem. “Enhancing pedestrian safety is in all of our best interest: almost everyone is a pedestrian at some point in their day, whether just a short walk to the car, one’s primary form of transportation, or somewhere in between,” the association said in its report.



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