WASHINGTON - A report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) reveals that pedestrian fatalities increased during the first six months of 2010. While the increase is small -- 0.4 percent -- it is notable because overall traffic fatalities during this period were significantly down, and this comes on the heels of four straight years of steady declines in pedestrian deaths. 

The new report, Spotlight on Safety: Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State, is the first state-by-state look at pedestrian fatalities for 2010 and was completed by Dr. James Hedlund, an independent researcher, formally with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

Hedlund surveyed GHSA members, who reported preliminary fatality numbers for every state. For the first six months of 2010, pedestrian fatalities increased by seven, from 1,884 to 1,891. If the second six months of 2010 also show no significant change, this will be the first year of increase or no progress after four years of decline. Pedestrian traffic fatalities dropped from 4,892 in 2005 to 4,091 in 2009, an average decline of 200 each year.

While the slight increase may not seem particularly alarming, it is a concern given that during this same period overall traffic fatalities declined 8 percent, according to the preliminary estimate from the NHTSA. A growing national focus on walkable communities and "get moving" health and fitness campaigns may cause pedestrian exposure, and thus risk, to increase.

"Nationally, pedestrian fatalities account for about 12 percent of overall traffic deaths, a small but significant portion," said GHSA Chairman Vernon F. Betkey Jr. "Given that we have made so much progress in this area, GHSA is concerned to see this reversal. One factor may be the increased distractions for both pedestrians and drivers. Anyone who travels in a busy city has seen countless pedestrians engrossed in conversation or listening to music while crossing a busy street. Just as drivers need to focus on driving safely, pedestrians need to focus on walking safely -- without distractions."

Looking at the early data from 2010, GHSA's report notes that 28 states experienced a pedestrian fatality decline, while 18 saw an increase and five were unchanged. (For purposes of this report, Washington D.C. is considered a state). Significantly, eight states had an increase of at least 10 deaths. Interestingly, one might expect the increases to be in the large states with big cities and lots of pedestrians such as in California, New York and Texas. However, these three big states experienced reductions in pedestrian fatalities. States with increases include Arizona (up 21), Florida (up 36), Oklahoma (up 16) Oregon (up 18), and North Carolina (up 17).

Troy E. Costales, GHSA's vice chairman and head of Oregon's highway safety program, noted that the big increase in his state comes after 60-year lows in 2009. 

"It is definitely a concern," Costales said. "Looking at our data, we are seeing pedestrians crossing mid-block instead of at crosswalks, pedestrians walking in the roadway, and even some walking in the travel lanes of the interstate. We are familiar with aggressive drivers; we now have aggressive pedestrians." 

Costales also pointed out that more than half of the pedestrians killed in 2010 were under the influence of intoxicants.

The report notes that while there are no single solutions to address pedestrian safety, there are general principles states can follow to keep pedestrians safe. These include:

  • Make pedestrian safety a real priority and allocate appropriate resources to pedestrian countermeasures.
  • Analyze crash data to identify pedestrian problem areas. Some states conduct pedestrian safety audits.
  • Install pedestrian crosswalks or reserve roadway space and time for pedestrians. Georgia has added pedestrian-activated red stop lights at high-volume pedestrian areas.
  • Enhance laws and employ innovative enforcement tactics. New Jersey strengthened its law by requiring vehicles to stop, rather than only yield, for pedestrians in crosswalks. Hawaii and New Jersey have used decoy enforcement tactics, in which police officers pose as pedestrians in marked crosswalks; motorists who fail to stop are issued warnings or tickets by uniformed officers a short distance away.
  • Educate children on safe pedestrian behaviors as is currently done across the nation.

The full report, Spotlight on Safety: Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State, is available at www.ghsa.org.