It’s not every day that non-profit safety advocacy groups make headline news with annual reports. However, in March 2017, the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) did just that when it released its Spotlight on Highway Safety report for 2016, which projected a startling 11 percent increase in pedestrian fatalities compared to the previous year.
The GHSA made the double-digit projection after examining preliminary data for the first half of the year, which was provided by all 50 state highway safety offices and the District of Columbia, and adjusted to account for under-reporting and previous full-year data trends. The disturbing projection marks the second consecutive year of record-breaking increases in pedestrian deaths, as well as the sharpest year-to-year rise—both in number of deaths and percent increase—since record keeping began more than 40 years ago.
The report has traffic safety advocates across the country scrambling to identify causes and come up with ways to reverse this heartbreaking trend. In the meantime, employing a few smart safety tips can help a pedestrian avoid becoming a fatality statistic.
2016 Pedestrian Accident Statistics
Authored by Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Transportation Consultants, the Spotlight on Highway Safety report contains a number of troubling statistics. Consider the following:
- Pedestrian deaths rose more than 9 percent from 2014 to 2015.
- In 2014, 72 percent of fatal pedestrian accidents happened when it was dark.
- Approximately 2,660 pedestrian fatalities were reported in the first half of 2016, compared to 2,486 deaths in the first half of 2015.
- After adjustments for under-reporting and past annual data trends, the report indicates an estimated 5,997 pedestrians died in 2016.
- Pedestrians currently account for approximately 15 percent of all fatalities in motor vehicle accidents.
- From 2014 to 2016, pedestrian fatalities increased 22 percent.
- The number of pedestrian deaths increased in 34 states in 2016.
- The District of Columbia and 15 states had a decrease in pedestrian fatalities in 2016.
- Only one state, Maine, had the same number of pedestrian deaths in both 2015 and 2016.
- California, Florida, New York, Georgia, and Texas each had more than 100 pedestrian deaths.
- Four states—California, Florida, New York, and Texas—accounted for 42 percent of all pedestrian fatalities.
Possible Contributing Factors
While it may be too early to determine exactly what is causing the spike in pedestrian deaths, researchers have identified several possible contributing factors, including:
- A sharp rise in smartphone use, both by pedestrians and drivers
- Improving economic conditions
- Low gas prices
- An increase in the number of miles traveled by motor vehicle
- An increase in the number of people walking for health, environmental, economic or transportation reasons
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Trend Reversal Efforts
Pedestrian deaths reached record highs in both 2015 and 2016. It’s a dangerous trend that the GHSA hopes to interrupt with a variety of strategies submitted by state members for the purpose of reducing future motor vehicle accidents involving pedestrians.
These strategies include implementing high-visibility information campaigns for pedestrians and motorists; identifying and conducting educational outreach in high-risk areas; adopting Complete Streets safety policies; and partnering with community organizations and local universities to advance pedestrian safety.
Safety Tips for Pedestrians
When walking, use these simple tips to arrive at your destination safely:
- Stay on the sidewalk or walk facing oncoming traffic.
- If you’re walking in the dark, carry a light, or wear light-colored clothing or a reflective vest to ensure you’re visible to motorists.
- Always cross the street at the crosswalk, as it’s the only place drivers are trained to look for pedestrians.
- Stay sharp—never travel on foot after using drugs or alcohol, which can slow your reaction time.
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