Pedestrian deaths in US up 10 percent in 2015, biggest jump ever

pedestrian deaths

The Governors Highway Safety Association’s latest look at what’s happening to pedestrians in America is out, and it is not pretty; there’s a ten percent increase in 2015 over 2014, and a 19 percent increase since 2009. They try to figure out why:

Many factors contribute to changes in the number pedestrian fatalities, including economic conditions, demographics, weather conditions, fuel prices, the amount of motor vehicle travel, and the amount of time people spend walking. Travel monitoring data published by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) indicates that motor vehicle travel on all roads and streets increased by +3.5 percent (+52 billion vehicle miles) for the first half of 2015 as compared with the same period in 2014. A more recent contributing factor may be the growing use of cell phones while walking, which can be a significant source of distraction for pedestrians.

But to be fair, they do not spend any time blaming victims or apportioning blame, saying silly things like 80 percent of accidents are the pedestrians fault. They leave the victim blaming to the states like California, who do the smart phone dumb ad thing:

california campaign© Walksmart

Instead they focus on the benefits of walking as “ the oldest, most basic, and arguably the most beneficial form of human transportation.” They are actually trying to make it safer for walking and encourage it. They note that 28 percent of trips are less than a mile in length and that moving from a vehicle to the sidewalk can help reduce congestion. They even note that “ motor vehicles are responsible for more than one-half of nitrogen oxide emissions and toxic air pollutant emissions, and one-half of smog-forming volatile organic compounds. Walking is responsible for none of these.” And for once, they make the last mile point, that “Walking is intrinsically linked with public transit, which provides a vital alternative to travel by private automobile.”

age and death© GHSA

Most accidents happen at non-intersections, although a much higher percentage of senior citizens are killed at intersections than other age groups, probably because they are less likely to cross without signals and they are slower.

The Governors’ recommendation do not include putting reflective armbands on seniors like they are proposing in Boston right now, but in fact fixing the infrastructure with “evidence-based strategies” instead of anecdata.

The frequency and severity of motor vehicle/pedestrian crashes can be reduced through a broad range of approaches, including targeted traffic enforcement, engineering countermeasures, public education, and vehicle design changes. Some noteworthy examples are provided below.

Evidence-based strategies to Increase Separation of Pedestrians from Motor Vehicles include:
● Refuge islands
● Sidewalks and pedestrian overpasses/underpasses
● Optimized traffic signal timing
● New traffic signals where warranted

Evidence-based strategies to Make Pedestrians More Visible to Drivers include:
● Improved street lighting
● High-visibility crosswalks
● Rectangular rapid-flashing beacons (RRFBs) mounted to pedestrian crossing signs

Higher vehicle speeds are strongly associated with both a greater likelihood of pedestrian crashes and more serious pedestrian injuries. Evidence-based Engineering and Enforcement Measures to Reduce Speeds include:
● Road diets that create space for other uses (e.g., bicycle lanes, sidewalks, turn lanes)
● Roundabouts in place of stop signs and traffic signals
● Traffic calming devices such as speed humps and curb extensions
● Automated enforcement as a supplement to traditional enforcement

In their conclusions, the GSHA notes that smart phones may be an issue, and that the volume of data is way up. They do not divide that between distracted drivers and pedestrians, saying only that:

A more recent factor contributing the pedestrian fatalities may be the growing use of cell phones while walking, which can be a significant source of distraction for both drivers and pedestrians. According to the The Wireless Association, the reported volume of annual wireless data usage increased 26 percent from 2013 to 2014, and the number of annual multimedia messages increased by 58 percent.

While I wish that they had pointed out that growing use of cellphones while driving is also an issue, they certainly do not make a big deal of it, even though that will get all the headlines. The important fact is that pedestrian deaths are up by 19 percent in 5 years while total traffic deaths are down by 4 percent. That’s in part because “Pedestrians do not benefit from occupant-oriented vehicle crashworthiness improvements, and thus could account for an increasingly larger share of total traffic fatalities.”

crosswalk california© Walksmart

So perhaps it’s time to invest in pedestrian protection as well, by doing those recommended infrastructure improvements instead of handing out yellow armbands in Boston or scaring people out of crossing the street like they do in California. A lot of credit is due to the GHSA for recognizing the importance of walking, for sticking to evidence-based recommendations, and for not blaming the victim.

Tags: Traffic | Transportation | Urban Life | Urban Planning


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