Preliminary data suggests that the number of fatal accidents involving bicyclists and pedestrians increased significantly last year, reaching the highest levels recorded since 1990.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released updated motor vehicle fatality figures this month, finding overall traffic fatalities decreased in 2018, but deaths involving pedestrians and bicyclists combined increased by approximately 14% when compared to 2017.
Officials report that overall traffic fatalities fell by roughly one percent, from 37,133 in 2017 to 36,750 in 2018, bringing the overall fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled down to 1.14.
However, officials indicate more needs to be done to improve vehicle-to-pedestrian fatalities, which increased in 2018 for the first time in three years.
Researchers found pedestrian deaths increased by four percent, and bicyclist deaths increased by 10% for the year of 2018, accounting for 16% of all traffic fatalities.
A total of 6,227 pedestrians were killed in a vehicular crash in 2018, which is an increase of 41% when compared to 2008. Researchers indicated 250 more pedestrian and bicyclists were involved in a fatal vehicle-involved crash in 2018 when compared to 2017.
Despite federal and state efforts to improve pedestrian safety, the report found 25 states and the District of Columbia saw increases in deaths.
A report published earlier this year by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) said several factors may be causing pedestrian fatalities to increase, including distracted driving, distracted pedestrians, population growth, and the increasing size of vehicles.
GHSA reports the number of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) involved in pedestrian deaths has increased by 50% since 2013, while passenger cars involvement in pedestrian fatalities simultaneously increased by 30%. Researchers found larger vehicles hitting pedestrians are more likely to result in death or severe injuries that result in fatalities.
States such as Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, and Texas accounted for 46% of all pedestrian deaths in 2018, which corresponds with states that experienced some of the highest population growths over the course of the year. These densely populated areas are shown to be more prone to pedestrian and cyclist collisions due to those choosing to walk or ride their bicycles, rather than driving.
GHSA’s report largely contributes the fatality increase to drivers and pedestrians being distracted by their smartphones. While many believe the drivers are often to blame for being distracted, states have recognized distracted pedestrians are also to blame.
Several jurisdictions in New Jersey and New York have passed laws prohibiting pedestrians from looking at their phone while in a cross walk.
At least 47 states and the District of Columbia have banned text messaging for drivers of all ages and 15 states and territories have laws prohibiting drivers of all ages from using hand-held cell phones while driving. Thirty-eight states and the District of Columbia have implemented laws banning the use of cell phones by teen or novice drivers.
However, the NHTSA data indicates that distracted driving auto accidents killed 3,450 people in 2016, which is an increase of 17 percent since 2014. NHTSA reports an estimated 95% of all roadway crashes are caused by human error with the majority being a result of a distraction shortly before the collision.