By Wes Guckert, PTP, President, The Traffic Group

In recent years, the number of pedestrian fatalities in the United States has grown substantially faster than all other traffic deaths.  According to a 2017 report from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association (GHSA), the number of pedestrian fatalities increased 27% from 2007 to 2016, while at the same time, all other traffic deaths decreased by 14%. It has been more than 25 years since the United States experienced this level of pedestrian fatalities. This sharp increase in pedestrian fatalities is now getting the attention of lawmakers. Currently, the Maryland Legislature has a pending bill to deal with pedestrians and bicyclists as it relates to access to commercial development. 

  • There were 23 states and the District of Columbia that had increases in pedestrian fatalities.
  • 20 states had decreases.
  • Seven states remained the same.

Interestingly, the seven states that legalized recreational use of marijuana between 2012 and 2016 reported a collective 16.4% increase in pedestrian deaths for the first six months of 2017, versus the first six months of 2016.  All other states reported a collective 5.8% decrease in pedestrian fatalities for those same periods.

With regard to cell phone use, the reported number of active cell phones in the United States increased by 236% from 2010 to 2016, also according to GHSA. The number of emergency room visits has increased with the corresponding number and use of cell phones.

One of the primary problems is that walking is the oldest, most basic, and arguably the most beneficial form of human transportation.  As you know, walking provides many important personal and societal benefits, including reduced air pollution when people choose to walk instead of driving cars and the health benefits from physical activity. 

The eventual high use of robo-taxis is going to reduce walking for sure, even in urban areas. This will come at a time when walking is becoming an increasingly popular mode of transportation. Unfortunately, pedestrians represent a growing percentage of total traffic fatalities and injuries. The U.S. average was 1.92 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 population in 2016.  The State of Maryland has a slightly lower rate of 1.78. 

While conversations have been started on ways to address the pedestrian safety problem throughout the United States as well as Maryland, we need to continue to keep this discussion on the front burner so that more lives are not lost.

But in the meantime, what can be done? In short: both drivers and pedestrians need to pay better attention when driving and crossing roads. There is the term “distracted driver,” but there are also “distracted pedestrians,” as well. The biggest piece of advice, put down the cell phone when driving – or walking. Many more people could be spared.

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