More than 6,500 people on foot were killed in motor vehicle crashes on roads in the United States last year, the highest number since 1988. That’s an increase of about 300 deaths, or 5%, from 2018. In contrast, overall traffic deaths are going down. Possible causes for the rise include good weather, smartphones — a significant source of cognitive and visual distraction — and SUVs. Pedestrians struck by a large SUV are twice as likely to die as those struck by a car. 

Those are some of the findings in a new analysis released on Thursday by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), a nonprofit organization representing state highway safety offices. The report, “Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State,” based its projections on preliminary data for the first six months of 2019 provided by the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

“Each year, thousands of additional people are dying in pedestrian crashes compared to a decade ago” Richard Retting of Sam Schwartz Consulting, who analyzed the data and authored the report, said in a statement. “Following 30 years of declining pedestrian fatalities,there has been a complete reversal of progress. Pedestrians are at an inherent disadvantage in collisions, and we must continue to take a broad approach to pedestrian safety.”

Some highlights from the report:

 Five states (Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas) accounted for almost half (47%) of all pedestrian deaths. Warm weather in these states is thought to be a possible contributing factor. 

 —Passenger cars are the largest category of vehicles in fatal pedestrian crashes, but the number of pedestrian fatalities over the past decade involving SUVs increased at a faster rate – 81% – than passenger cars, which increased by 53%. 

 — Most pedestrian fatalities take place on local roads, at night and away from intersections.  Over the past 10 years, the number of nighttime deaths increased by 67%, compared to a 16% increase in daytime deaths.

 — Unsafe behaviors, like speeding, distracted and drowsy driving, pose risks to walkers; alcohol impairment by the driver and/or pedestrian was reported in nearly half of the traffic crashes that resulted in pedestrian fatalities in 2018.

 — Advancements in motor vehicle safety and technology have increased survival odds for vehicle occupants involved in crashes, but “pedestrians remain just as susceptible to sustaining serious or fatal injuries when struck by a motor vehicle.”

A pedestrian protection feature, which makes bumpers softer and modifies the front ends of vehicles to reduce the severity of an impact, is not mandatory in the United States; only six of the eight United Nations priority vehicle safety standards are required by law.

In contrast, many countries, including most in Europe, as well as Japan, Australia – and even India – currently require the protection feature.  This interactive map from the World Health Organization shows where in the world the pedestrian protection feature is mandatory.

On a positive note, 20 states and Washington, D.C., experienced declines in pedestrian fatalities for the first half of 2019 compared to 2018, six states reported double-digit declines and seven reported consecutive years of declines. Additionally, there were sharp decreases in deaths in some cities.

The report detailed a series of strategies to reduce pedestrian (and motor vehicle) crashes. These include: improving infrastructure design, like making road crossings safer; enhancing the visibility of pedestrians and vehicles; boosting educational outreach; increasing enforcement on speeding, impaired driving and distracted driving; reducing speed limits; and implementing design changes in SUVs to lessen injuries and fatalities.

“In the past 10 years, the number of pedestrian fatalities on our nation’s roadways has increased by more than 50%,” Jonathan Adkins, executive director of the GHSA, said in a statement. “This alarming trend signifies that we need to consider all the factors involved in this rise, identify the high-risk areas, allocate resources where they’re needed most, and continue to work with local law enforcement partners to address the chronic driver violations that contribute to pedestrian crashes.”

Click here to read the full report, which includes state-by-state data.



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