Careful crossing the street: pedestrian deaths soared 11 percent last year

April 3, 2017

Earlier this year, two reports revealed that the number of auto-related fatalities in America increased sharply in 2016. A new study from the Governors Highway Safety Association suggests that pedestrian deaths may be partly responsible for that uptick.

The organization's projections show an 11 percent rise in pedestrian fatalities between 2015 and 2016. That's the biggest jump ever recorded. 

To make its predictions, the GHSA pulled data from safety offices in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The organization found that 34 states had recorded increases in pedestrian fatalities last year, while only 15 states and D.C. saw decreases. One remained flat. 

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In raw numbers, the GHSA says that 2,660 pedestrians were killed in the U.S. during the first six months of 2016, up from 2486 during the same period in 2015. 

Based on that data and on historic trends, the GHSA predicts that there were 5,997 pedestrian fatalities throughout the whole of 2016. Alarmingly, that's not just 11 percent above 2015's numbers, it's a staggering 22 percent higher than 2014.

Why the sharp increase? The GHSA doesn't have any solid answers--though in fairness, that wasn't the intent of this report. However, the organization does identify a few trends that could have contributed to the surge:

Cheap fuel and a strong economy: "As economic conditions improve and gas prices remain low, the U.S. has seen an increase in motor vehicle miles traveled."

A renewed focus on health and environmental concerns (something we've seen before): "[A] growing number of Americans are choosing to travel by foot for health, transportation, economic or environmental reasons."

Distracted walking (and driving): "Another potential factor is a sharp rise in the use of smartphones to send and receive multimedia messages, a frequent source of mental and visual distraction for both walkers and drivers."

If the GHSA's projections bear out, they may help explain why early stats from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration show an eight percent rise in roadway deaths in 2016 and the National Safety Council predicts a slightly smaller but still alarming six percent increase. (Both organizations include pedestrian deaths in their totals.) The rises would be unwelcome news at any time, but especially now, following years of fairly steady declines in fatalities. 

You can download a copy of the GHSA's full report on pedestrian fatalities here.

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