October 21, 2021
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The Governors Highway Safety Association recently highlighted the steps state agencies are taking to combat a spike in pedestrian fatalities in recent years – a spike that took a further upswing during the COVID-19 pandemic.

[Above photo by the NCDOT]

“We must do more to address the safety of our most vulnerable road users by stopping the preventable causes of crashes – speeding, impairment and distraction – that needlessly put lives at risk,” noted GHSA Executive Director Jonathan Adkins in a statement.

Photo by the FHWA

GHSA projected that 6,721 pedestrians died on U.S. roads in 2020 – a 4.8 percent increase from 2019 despite a drastic drop in vehicle miles traveled or VMT. That trend continued into 2021 as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently reported that 8,730 people died on U.S. roadways in the first quarter of 2021, a 10.5 percent increase compared to the same period in 2020.

That uptick in pedestrian fatalities is occurring alongside an increase in the number of people walking. According to a study by Commercial Café, data from Apple’s Mobility Report, searches for walking directions in 50 major metropolitan areas across the United States between January 2020 and August 2021 shot up 122 percent and 95 percent, respectively, in the Midwestern and Northeastern regions of the country – greatly exceeding the increases in driving directions.

Photo by the Oregon DOT

GHSA noted that its annual pedestrian safety report highlights numerous proven strategies to reduce crashes and injuries involving people who walk, including engineering, equitable enforcement of traffic safety laws, automated enforcement, and pedestrian safety assessments and road safety audits.

That report also highlighted successful pedestrian safety campaigns launched by state departments of transportation.

For example, Watch for Me NC – directed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation – is a comprehensive program that uses public education, community engagement and high visibility enforcement to reduce pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and deaths.

A 2020 survey of state residents found the program resulted in increased awareness of the state law requiring drivers to stop for a pedestrian in a crosswalk, which is helping to protect people on foot.

Photo by the New Mexico DOT

Meanwhile, the New Mexico Department of Transportation recently adopted its first Pedestrian Safety Action Plan, which details what the department and its partners will do over the next five years to reduce the number of pedestrian-involved serious injuries and fatalities.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation also launched its first Statewide Pedestrian System Plan in May 2021 – a plan that provides “policy and investment guidance” to improve places where people walk across and along Minnesota highways.

That plan also served as the foundation for a new Minnesota DOT safety campaign – “Let’s Move Safely Together” – launched in July that reminds people to use extra caution when driving and walking. Through June of 2020, the Minnesota DOT said 24 people have died while walking on roads statewide, while 224 people died in vehicle crashes.

“One life lost on our roadways is too many. When we work as a team and watch out for each other, we can save lives and make progress Toward Zero Deaths,” said Margaret Anderson Kelliher, Minnesota DOT’s commissioner, in a statement earlier this year.

“That means drivers need to slow down and stop for people crossing the road,” she added. “When you’re walking, look all ways before crossing and stay alert because people driving may not see you.”

editor@aashto.org

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