More people are dying on America’s roads than ever and nearly 6,000 aren’t even in a vehicle, according to new figures from the Governors Highway Safety Association. The group forecast pedestrian deaths will rise 11% in 2016 compared with 2015.
In simple terms, 620 more people died last year than the previous, marking the highest number in more than 20 years, the GHSA notes.
“This latest data shows that the U.S. isn’t meeting the mark on keeping pedestrians safe on our roadways,” said Jonathan Adkins, GHSA executive director. “Every one of these lives represents a loved one not coming home tonight, which is absolutely unacceptable.”
The figures are preliminary, based on data from all states and the District of Columbia for the first six months of 2016 and then extrapolated for the rest of the year.
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During the first six months, states recorded 2,660 pedestrian fatalities — an increase from 2,486 deaths in the same time period in 2015. But the preliminary figures would represent the steepest year-to-year increase since record-keeping began, both in number of deaths and percent increase.
The National Safety Council expressed dismay by the new numbers.
“Pedestrians are among our most vulnerable roadway users. They are unprotected and, in most cases, outnumbered,” the NSC noted in a statement. “As motor vehicle deaths continue to climb, we must not forget that the risks we are all facing extend to the sidewalks too. Everyone deserves safe passage, and these numbers are yet another indication that we must do more to keep each other safe.”
There is no single cause for the multiyear increase officials suggest, noting that the 2016 figure is 22% higher than 2014. Traffic fatalities overall jumped 6% last year, their highest level in nearly a decade and erasing improvements made during the Great Recession and economic recovery, according to data released last month by the National Safety Council. The council estimates there were more than 40,200 traffic deaths in 2016.
(Click Here for details about the increase in highway fatalities.)
However, officials pointed to several factors believed to contributing to the jump in pedestrian deaths during the last two years, including:
- Increased driving due to an improved economy and lower gas prices.
- Increased walking for exercise
- Increased walking due to environmental impact.
- Increased distraction by smartphones and other devices (walking and driving)
Alcohol is also factor with 34% of pedestrians killed while intoxicated, and 15% of vehicle occupants.
Distraction as causality is hard to prove, of course. But it sure looks that way based on a process of elimination. Walking and miles driven are up only a few percentage points, said Retting. And alcohol use has not increased. Meanwhile, texting and other uses of wireless devices have exploded, he said.
Pedestrian deaths vastly outpace fatalities overall, climbing 25% from 2010 to 2015, according to Retting’s report. Total traffic deaths increased about 6% over the same period.
“It’s the only factor that that seems to indicate a dramatic change in how people behave,” Retting said.
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More than twice as many states reported an uptick in pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2016 than had decreasing numbers. Thirty-four states saw an increase, while 15 states and the District of Columbia reported decreases, and one state had no change.