Vehicular traffic deaths seem to have leveled off nationally after a surprising spike during the COVID-19 pandemic, but walking remains an increasingly dangerous activity.
Preliminary figures released Tuesday by the Governors Highway Safety Association show that pedestrian deaths increased by 5% in the first six months of 2022 to 3,434. That’s also an increase of 18% in the first half of the year since 2019, despite reduced driving during the pandemic, and a 60% increase compared to 2013.
“We should have seen these numbers go down, but they continue to persist,” Pam Shadek Fischer, the association’s senior director of external engagement, said in a Monday interview. “It’s still going in the wrong direction. It’s just completely frustrating and completely unacceptable.”
Overall, 168 more pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in the first six months of 2022. Fifteen states had increases for the second year in a row, while only two states had declines for two straight years.
The three most populous warm-weather states — California, Florida and Texas — continue to lead the way in pedestrian deaths, although California (two) and Texas (eight) had minor reductions last year.
Pedestrian deaths in Pennsylvania increased by 19 to 84. Ohio had the best performance, dropping by nine deaths to 67.
The association said the same factors that cause increases in vehicular deaths — excessive speed, larger vehicles and distracted or impaired driving — also cause more pedestrian deaths. After a record-breaking year for traffic deaths in 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation last year rolled out the National Roadway Safety Strategy, which called for better behavior by drivers, safer vehicles, traveling at safe speeds, improving road safety by better design and providing better medical care after crashes.
Fischer said states should address those issues, as well as review other safety factors for pedestrians such as sidewalks, crosswalks and street lighting. Redesigning roads is a long-term issue, she said, but sidewalks, better lighting and improved crosswalks are less expensive and often can be done quickly.
“As departments of transportation are making improvements, they need to look at what the usage of the road is and whether they are addressing factors that help keep pedestrians safe,” she said.
Fischer added that pedestrians need to watch their behavior and make sure they are not impaired when they are walking near traffic.
“We do know alcohol is a factor in pedestrian deaths,” she said. “An impaired pedestrian likely is not going to make the best decisions.”
Fischer said she will coordinate a national panel of experts on impaired pedestrians at the National Lifesavers Conference in Seattle in April.
The public also needs to be involved in advocating for improved conditions to protect pedestrians, she said.
“To me, at the end of the day, we all have a role to play in this,” Fischer said. “Be your own advocate. Speak out about problems you see, like poor sidewalks or bad lighting.”
Find the full study at https://www.ghsa.org/resources/Pedestrians23.
Ed covers transportation at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.