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Pedestrian deaths at a 25-year high: GHSA report

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Photo: Governors Highway Safety Association

Washington — Pedestrian deaths in the United States have increased faster than all other types of traffic fatalities over the past decade, and now are at a 25-year high, according to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association.

After analyzing preliminary data from highway safety offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia for the first half of 2017, GHSA projects 2017 pedestrian deaths will reach nearly 6,000 – the second year in a row the total has hit a level not reached in a quarter of a century. Other key findings:

  • Between 2007 and 2016, pedestrian fatalities rose 27 percent, while all other traffic deaths fell 14 percent.
  • From 2015 to 2016, the number of pedestrian deaths in the top 10 cities increased 28 percent.
  • Smartphone use jumped 236 percent from 2010 to 2016, and the number of cellphone-related emergency room visits is on the rise.

“Two consecutive years of 6,000 pedestrian deaths is a red flag for all of us in the traffic safety community,” GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins said in a Feb. 28 press release. “These high levels are no longer a blip but, unfortunately, a sustained trend. We can’t afford to let this be the new normal.”

The report lists a few possible reasons for the increase. Among them: More people are walking, more people are distracted while walking and more states have legalized recreational marijuana. In the seven states and Washington, D.C., where recreational marijuana was legalized between 2012 and 2016, a collective 16.4 percent increase was seen in pedestrian fatalities for the first half of 2017, while all other states combined posted a 5.8 percent decrease.

The report includes ways that federal and state governments, municipalities, and safety advocate organizations and agencies are trying to improve pedestrian safety. Evidence-based measures include:

  • Refuge islands to let pedestrians cross two-way streets one direction at a time
  • Pedestrian overpasses and underpasses
  • Countdown pedestrian signals
  • New traffic signals where necessary
  • Improved street lighting (75 percent of pedestrian deaths occur in the dark)
  • High-visibility crosswalks
  • Rapid flashing beacons attached to pedestrian signs at mid-block crossings

The National Safety Council released a statement Feb. 28 on the findings.

“The National Safety Council is discouraged by new figures from the Governors Highway Safety Association that show a plateau in pedestrian deaths in 2017,” the statement reads. “The findings dovetail with a nationwide leveling off of all motor vehicle-related deaths, according to preliminary estimates released by the council earlier this month. When it comes to deaths on our roads, our nation seems content to simply tread water. We are apathetic to the issue, and this complacency is killing us.”

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