Pedestrian deaths in Maryland jumped 25 percent in 2018 to a 28-year high. We had 48 pedestrian deaths in 2017 and that jumped to 60 in 2018.
We are not the only ones. The national average is also at a 28-year high, according to a Governors Highway Safety Association report published Thursday.
According to this report by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA), pedestrian deaths in 2018 were the highest they have been in the last 30 years.
The data indicates that pedestrian fatalities in the first six months of 2018 were three percent higher than they were during the first six months of 2017. The GHSA’s data also indicates that pedestrian deaths increased by four percent in 2018 from 2017. The number of pedestrian deaths in 2018 was the highest since 1990. Pedestrian-related deaths experienced a 35 percent increase over a ten-year span. Half of all U.S. states as well as the District of Columbia had increases in pedestrian-related deaths.
Why is there an increase in pedestrian deaths?
These pedestrian accident statistics are depressing, right? What gives? The GHSA report suggests several reasons why pedestrian deaths increased. They include population increases within several states, driving at night, the increased light truck and smartphone popularity, and alcohol impairment.
Population increases within states
The report also suggests that increases in pedestrian deaths are related to the population within several states. More pedestrians on the road may mean more pedestrian deaths. The GHSA report determined that almost half of all pedestrian-related deaths were concentrated in the states of California, Florida, Georgia, and Texas. These states are some of the fastest-growing in America, meaning that there is a correlation between increases in both population and pedestrian deaths.
I’m not buying this one. We do not have a ton of population growth. Just because some states are getting bigger, that does not mean we are growing as a population and it certainly does not explain the jump we had in Maryland.
It is also likely that night driving has contributed to these pedestrian death increases. Many of the pedestrian deaths occur at night rather than during the day. Visibility is much more limited at night than the day, increasing one’s risk of hitting a pedestrian on the road. Between the years 2008 and 2017, the occurrence of nighttime pedestrian fatalities increased by 45 percent, while daytime pedestrian fatalities increased by 11 percent.
Meh. We have been driving at night for a long time.
The increased popularity of light trucks
The GHSA report notes that the increased popularity of light trucks in recent years is another factor in the increase. They consist of pickup trucks, vans, and SUVs. SUV-related pedestrian fatalities have increased by 50 percent between 2013 and 2017. This is at a higher rate than passenger cars, which only had a 30 percent increase during that same time period.
This could be a factor. SUVs are just harder to control quickly.
Increase in popularity of smartphones
The report also theorizes that the increased popularity of smartphones has resulted in more distractions for both motorists and pedestrians. This is the easiest one to buy into, right?
According to the report, around half of all traffic crashes involved alcohol in 2017. About 32 percent of all crashes involving pedestrian fatalities involved a pedestrian whose Blood Alcohol Concentration (BAC) was at least 0.08. By contrast, only 17 percent of drivers involved in similar crashes did so. This may indicate the importance of responsible drinking habits, even when one does not operate a motor vehicle. Walking while drunk is a thing, but it would not account for this huge increase.
Safety measures taken by federal and state government
Both federal and state authorities have taken measures to curb pedestrian-related deaths. Federal efforts primarily comprise grant programs that incentivize states to develop programs to curb their pedestrian deaths. State authorities have been developing a variety of programs that include educating the public, increasing enforcement, and improving pedestrian facilities.
Federal safety measures
The report also notes that the Federal government has provided resources that help states curb pedestrian deaths and injuries. Three of them consist of federal grant programs. The first one is Section 402, known as The State and Community Highway Safety Grant Program, which gives grants to states as an incentive to improve driving habits and reduce auto-related injuries and deaths. The second is Section 403, consisting of efforts to educate the public and enforce traffic laws in several cities such as Louisville, New York, and Philadelphia. The third one is Section 405, known as the FAST Act, which provides $70 million to eligible states who would take measures to decrease pedestrian and cyclist-related. For a state to be eligible for the program, its cyclist and pedestrian deaths must consist of over 15% of its total crash-related fatalities in one year.
There are two other measures mentioned in the report that are focused on reducing pedestrian deaths. One measure consists of efforts by the Federal Highway Administration (HWA) to reduce deaths by focusing more resources in cities and states with high pedestrian fatality rates. The other measure consists of a Highway Security Improvement Program, which uses data to apply engineering countermeasures that reduce fatal and serious-injury causing accidents.
State safety measures
Several states have been taking a variety of measures to curb pedestrian crashes. Massachusetts increased funds of over 80 local police departments to enable officers to conduct overtime patrols as a measure to curb accidents. Connecticut created the “Watch for Me CT” campaign, an outreach campaign that involves community engagement. Georgia’s Office of Highway Safety provided grants to cities with pedestrian fatality increases that have created educational outreach programs to prevent this.
Other states are doing good things, too. Ohio’s Department of Transportation provided funding used to improve pedestrian facilities through programs such as the Safe Routes to School Program. Delaware’s Office of Highway Safety has partnered with law enforcement to educate pedestrians and hand out citations in areas with high crash rates. New York State’s Department of Transportation will be auditing thousands of crosswalks located in urban areas to determine how safe they are to pedestrians. Florida has allocated funding to improve lighting in over 2,000 locations to increase nighttime pedestrian visibility.
Maryland needs to come up with its own plan. This is a very silent public safety crisis.