According to a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, pedestrian deaths are up 46 percent since 2009 as vehicle crashes involving pedestrians have become both "deadlier and more frequent."
As a result, the IIHS argues that "broader reconfigurations" of roadway designs will be required – along with other safety initiatives – to reverse the upward trend in pedestrian fatalities.
"Understanding where, when and how these additional pedestrian crashes are happening can point the way to solutions," IIHS President David Harkey noted in a statement. "This analysis tells us that improvements in road design, vehicle design and lighting and speed limit enforcement all have a role to play in addressing the issue."
For this new study, IIHS researchers looked at pedestrian crash trends from 2009 to 2016 to pinpoint the circumstances under which the largest increases occurred. Using federal fatality data and crash numbers, the group's researchers looked at roadway, environmental, personal and vehicle factors to see how they changed over the study period, while also examining changes in the number of pedestrian deaths relative to the number of pedestrians involved in crashes.
The researchers found that not only did pedestrian crashes increase over that seven year period, they also became deadlier. Deaths per 100 crash involvements increased 29 percent from 2010 to 2015 – the most recent year that data on all crashes, including non-fatal ones, were available. A total of 5,987 pedestrians were killed in crashes in 2016, accounting for 16 percent of all crash fatalities.
From 2009 to 2016, IIHS found that pedestrian deaths increased 54 percent in urban areas, which include both cities and what most people consider suburbs. They also increased 67 percent on "arterial" roads (busy roads designed mainly to funnel vehicle traffic toward freeways), 50 percent at non-intersections and 56 percent in the dark.
The large increase in pedestrian deaths on arterials isn't surprising, noted Harkey, as those roads often have a shortage of "convenient and safe" crossing locations.
"When people are forced to walk long distances to the nearest signalized intersection, they are more likely to choose the riskier option of sprinting across multiple lanes of traffic," he explained. "Communities can improve safety by providing more options to safely cross."
Such improvements IIHS highlighted in its report include: pedestrian hybrid beacons, which stay dark until a pedestrian pushes a button, at which point it flashes yellow, and then moves to solid yellow before activating two solid red lights; curb extensions or median crossing islands, which can shorten the distance people must walk across or allow them to traverse just a couple of lanes and a single direction of traffic at a time; adding sidewalks; and reducing vehicle travel lanes, dubbed a "road diet," which not only reduces the number of lanes pedestrians must cross but lowers vehicle speeds as well.
Johnathan Adkins, executive director of the Governors Highway Safety Association, pointed out that in regards to this IIHS study, reducing motor vehicle speed "is essential" to both avoid and mitigate the severity of pedestrian crashes.
"We know that enforcing speed limits through traditional and automated means can have a dramatic effect at getting drivers to slow down," he explained. "Speed can no longer be a forgotten issue if we are going to significantly reduce deaths and injuries for all road users."
Reducing alcohol impairment is also important, Adkins noted, as when comparing 2009 and 2016, the IIHS study revealed a 38 percent increase in pedestrians killed in crashes where the driver's blood alcohol content [BAC] was .08 or higher.
Adkins also emphasized the need for roadway design changes as a way to reduce pedestrian fatalities. "Education and enforcement efforts must work in tandem with infrastructure improvements, utilizing tools such as roundabouts and road diets to decrease driver speed and consider the safety of all road users as roadways are designed and re-engineered," Adkins stressed.
Photo: Vehicle Safety System Testing / IIHS
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