The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) is projecting an 11% increase in the number of pedestrians killed on USA roadways last year, compared with 2015, which would represent the steepest year-to-year increase since record-keeping began, both in terms of the number of deaths and percentage increase.
The GHSA’s annual Spotlight on Highway Safety report offers a first look at state-by-state trends in pedestrian traffic fatalities for 2016, using preliminary data provided by all 50 state highway safety offices and the District of Columbia. The report was authored by Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants.
States reported 2,660 pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2016, compared with 2,486 deaths during the same period of the previous year. Adjusting for underreporting and past full-year data trends, GHSA estimates an 11% rise in pedestrian fatalities from 2015 to 2016. Compared with 2014, the number of pedestrians killed in 2016 increased by 22%. Pedestrians account for approximately 15% of all motor vehicle deaths.
More than twice as many states reported a rise in pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2016 than showed a decrease. A total of 34 states saw an increase, while 15 states and DC reported decreases, and one state was unchanged. There are many possible factors contributing to this spike. As economic conditions improve and fuel prices remain low, the USA has seen an increase in vehicle miles traveled (VMT). At the same time, a growing number of people 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.
The GHSA has asked its state members, which are responsible for addressing behavioral safety, to provide examples of their efforts to reduce pedestrian and 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 that 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. State Highway Safety Offices are also requested to collaborate with state DOTs that are tasked with infrastructure improvements.
“This is the second year in a row that we have seen unprecedented increases in pedestrian fatalities, which is both sad and alarming,” said Retting. “From 2014 to 2015, the number of pedestrian deaths spiked more than 9%. It is critical that the highway safety community understand these disturbing statistics and work to aggressively implement effective countermeasures. The information in this report will help states and localities pursue engineering, enforcement and education solutions to reverse this trend.”
Jonathan Adkins, GHSA’s executive director, added, “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.”