Pedestrian deaths resulting from traffic crashes rose a projected 10% in 2015 compared to the previous year, according to a new report based on preliminary crash data.
The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released its annual Spotlight on Highway Safety Report, which provides the first look at 2015 pedestrian fatality trends. The report is based on early figures reported by all 50 state highway safety agencies and the District of Columbia. Richard Retting and Dr. Heather Rothenberg of Sam Schwartz Consulting authored the report.
“We are projecting the largest year-to-year increase in pedestrian fatalities since national records have been kept, and therefore we are quite alarmed,” Retting said.
Since the federal 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% decrease to an 8.1% increase.
“Pedestrian safety is clearly a growing problem across the country,” Retting noted. “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.”
Researchers compared the number of pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2015 (2,368) with the same time period the previous year (2,232). They adjusted for anticipated underreporting associated with the early data, and expect the final 2015 pedestrian fatality total will be approximately 10% higher than in 2014.
Along with the increase in pedestrian fatalities, pedestrians now account for a larger share— about 15% — of all motor vehicle crash-related deaths compared with 11% a decade ago.
Many factors could be contributing to this spike. An increase in motor vehicle travel, fueled in part by improved economic conditions and lower gas prices, is one factor. Also, the growing use of cell phones among walkers and drivers may be partially to blame.
Additionally, vehicles are becoming more and more crashworthy, so the likelihood of drivers and passengers surviving a crash is improving all the time. By contrast, pedestrians remain just as susceptible to injuries when hit by a motor vehicle.
Another important factor is the increase in the number of Americans walking for health, economic or environmental reasons. This underscores the need to create safe, walkable pathways and to ensure that people who drive and people who walk both understand and follow the rules of the road, GHSA said.
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.
Not surprisingly, more pedestrian fatalities tend to occur in large states with large urban centers. California, Florida, Texas and New York accounted for 42% 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 residents 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 and our member states will continue to make pedestrian safety a priority,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director. “The recently passed federal surface transportation bill, the FAST Act, will give states more resources and flexibility to address their most pressing pedestrian safety problems. We look forward to working with NHTSA and our other partners to drive down these numbers and move toward zero deaths.”
GHSA has asked its state members to share examples of strategies underway to reduce pedestrian and motor vehicle collisions. Some of the most promising approaches 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.
You can access the full report at www.ghsa.org.