Watch Where You Step: Pedestrian Fatalities Are On The Rise

August 7, 2012

When we think of traffic fatalities, we often think of drunk drivers or those not wearing seatbelts. But many people killed in such situations are pedestrians, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has just issued some sobering data that shows pedestrian deaths are on the rise.

Good news, bad news

As we told you several months ago, traffic fatalities now hover at record lows. Safety improvements on vehicles, new regulations and legislation, and a general decrease in drunk driving have resulted in dramatically reduced fatalities rates.

But while the number of people killed on the roads has dropped, NHTSA says that the percentage of pedestrians involved in those accidents has risen. NHTSA's data comes from 2010 and shows that of the 32,885 individuals who died in traffic accidents that year, 4,280 were pedestrians. That's a rate of 13%, which is higher than the 12% rate seen the year before and the 11% rate seen the year before that.

Now, some of you will probably immediately point fingers at electric cars and hybrids, which are notoriously quiet -- so much so that NHTSA thinks they're a danger to pedestrians. But super-silent vehicles don't seem to be the problem in most cases.

According to NHTSA's data, 75% of pedestrians killed in 2010 were hit at non-intersections. Most (89%) were struck when the weather was clear, and the vast majority of accidents occurred at night (69%), often between 8pm and midnight (30%) or midnight and 4am (16%).

Tellingly, in 37% of cases, pedestrians had been drinking. Compare that to the fact that only 18% of drivers had alcohol in their bloodstream -- -- either below or above legal levels -- during those accidents.

What does all that mean? 

While hybrids and electric cars may be at fault for some pedestrian fatalities, NHTSA's data indicates that pedestrians themselves bear some of the blame. How else to explain the high number of people struck at non-intersections and the relatively high rate of alcohol consumption among those killed?

Then again, some of these pedestrian deaths may simply be a fact of lifestyle and/or age. In 2010, pedestrians were most likely to be involved in an accident between the ages of 45 and 59 -- prime earning years, when working men and women spend a lot of time outside the home. Naturally, that puts those individuals in more potentially dangerous situations, including the relatively new danger of texting and walking.

If you have time this Tuesday, you can download NHTSA's entire PDF by clicking here.

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