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Pedestrian Deaths in Traffic Accidents Reach Highest Level in Three Decades: Study

Preliminary data suggests that the number of pedestrians killed in traffic accidents increased significantly last uear, reaching the highest levels recorded in more than three decades.

The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) released the 2019 Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State report last month, indicating auto accidents that resulted in a pedestrian death increased by 5% when compared to 2018. The report notes that distracted driving, walking with smartphones and drunk or drugged driving were significant contributing factors.

Researchers from GHSA analyzed preliminary 2019 data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.), finding a 3% increase in the reported number of pedestrian fatalities compared with the first six months of 2018. However, after adjusting for underreporting and the second half of the years data, they estimated a nationwide 5% increase in pedestrian fatalities when compared to 2018.

The report estimates there were 300 more pedestrian fatalities were recorded in 2019, involving 6,590 incidents, compared to 6,283 fatalities in 2018. Compared to all traffic related fatalities for 2019, pedestrian deaths accounted for 17% of all incidents.

Despite 20 states reporting declines in pedestrian fatalities, 30 states had increases, with Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas accounting for 47% of all pedestrian deaths. These same five states, which contain a large population of bicyclists and pedestrians, accounted for 46% of all pedestrian deaths in 2018.

Pedestrian fatalities have steadily increased since 2009,  from 1.3 per 100,000 in 2009 to 2.0 per 100,000 in 2019.

A number of contributing factors may be causing the rise in pedestrian deaths, including the need for safer road crossings, unsafe driving behaviors, the increased presence of sport utility vehicles (SUVs) and the tremendous growth of smartphone use, which is a significant source of distracted driving.

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.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (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.

The rising rate of pedestrian fatalities has become a major focus of the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which released a series of safety recommendations in September 2018, calling for the NHTSA, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) to collaborate on efforts to produce better standards which will protect pedestrians.

However, finding those technologies and implementing them has been harder than anticipated. Prior research by the American Automobile Association (AAA) has warned that modern automatic braking technologies designed with pedestrian detection capabilities are inconsistent and virtually nonexistent at night, highlighting the need for continued development and improvement of features.

Researchers indicated from their study that nearly every test run ended with the vehicle striking the pedestrian double, citing that although some vehicle technologies recognize a forward collision threat, they are unable to stop or significantly reduce speed to prevent a collision.

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