The number of pedestrians killed on U.S. roads climbed 11% in 2016 — the steepest year-to-year increase since record keeping on the matter began, according to preliminary estimates from the Governors Highway Safety Association.
The surge is expected to set new records in both the number of deaths and the increase in percentage. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) relied on preliminary 2016 data from all 50 state highway safety offices and the District of Columbia. Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants authored the report.
“This is the second year in a row that we have seen unprecedented increases in pedestrian fatalities, which is both sad and alarming,” Retting said.
From 2014 to 2015, the number of pedestrian deaths spiked more than 9%. Compared to 2014, the number of pedestrians killed in 2016 increased by 22%.
“It is critical that the highway safety community understand these disturbing statistics and work to aggressively implement effective countermeasures,” Retting said. “The information in this report will help states and localities pursue engineering, enforcement and education solutions to reverse this trend.”
States reported 2,660 pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2016, compared to 2,486 deaths during the same period in 2015. The report adjusts for underreporting and past full-year data trends. Pedestrians represent approximately 15% of all motor vehicle deaths.
More than twice as many states reported an uptick in pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2016 than had decreasing numbers. Thirty-four states saw an increase, while 15 states and the District of Columbia reported decreases. Just one state had no change.
There are many possible factors contributing to this spike. As economic conditions improve and gas prices remain low, the U.S. has seen an increase in motor vehicle miles traveled. At the same time, a growing number of Americans are choosing to travel by foot for health, transportation, economic or environmental reasons. Another potential factor is a sharp rise in the use of smartphones to send and receive multimedia messages, a frequent source of mental and visual distraction for both walkers and drivers.
“Everyone walks, and we want to encourage that, but at the same time we want to make sure that we all get to our destinations safely,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director. “Unfortunately, this latest data shows that the U.S. is not meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians safe on our roadways. Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight, which is absolutely unacceptable.”
GHSA also asked its state members, which are responsible for addressing behavioral safety, to provide examples of their efforts to reduce pedestrian and motor vehicle collisions. Promising strategies include: high visibility enforcement and public information campaigns aimed at both motorists and pedestrians; identifying high-risk zones and conducting educational outreach in these areas; adoption of Complete Streets policies, which ensure streets are safe for all users regardless of mode, age and ability; and strategic partnerships with local universities and community organizations to advance pedestrian safety.
The National Safety Council echoed GHSA’s call to action.
“The National Safety Council is alarmed by new numbers from the Governors Highway Safety Association indicating a historic rise in pedestrian fatalities last year,” the organization said in a released statement. “Pedestrians are among our most vulnerable roadway users. They are unprotected and, in most cases, outnumbered. As motor vehicle deaths continue to climb, we must not forget that the risks we are all facing extend to the sidewalks too. Everyone deserves safe passage, and these numbers are yet another indication that we must do more to keep each other safe.”
To download the report, click here.