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Pedestrian Deaths Drop Nationally

Wednesday, March 05, 2014 - 10:19 AM

Pedestrians in Manhattan (Kate Hinds/WNYC)

Following a three-year uptick, preliminary data indicates the number of pedestrians killed in traffic crashes may now be on the decline.

According to a new report from the Governors Highway Safety Association, pedestrian deaths fell 8.7 percent during the first six months of 2013 when compared to the first six months of 2012.

In New York state, pedestrian deaths went from 143 to 128 over that time period. (In New Jersey, they increased—from 62 in the first half of 2012 to 68 in the first half of 2013.)

Twenty-five states saw decreases in fatalities, versus 20 states (+D.C.) that saw an increase. There were more states that had large decreases, especially Florida (-55) and California (-37).

"If data for the second half of 2013 conform to the first six months, this will mean that the yearly upward trend in pedestrian deaths that occurred in 2010 through 2012 has ended, at least temporarily," writes Dr. Alan Williams, the study's author.

The report points out that pedestrian fatalities "are largely an urban phenomenon...the states with the most fatalities are primarily large-population states with many urban centers."

The list bears that out: over the first six months of 2013, Texas had 245 deaths, California had 244, and Florida had 179. Taken together, those three states account for one-third of the country's pedestrian fatalities.

By contrast, Wyoming had zero pedestrian fatalities for the first six months of 2013, and Vermont, South Dakota, North Dakota, Maine and Alaska each had two.

The report debunks 'distracted walking' as a driving factor behind pedestrian deaths ("compared to speeding, red light running, illegal turns, and distance between safe crossing facilities, distracted walking is just a minor contributor," the report said) but doesn't offer an explanation for the decline.

There is one certainty, according to Dr. Williams: “Reducing speeding, particularly in areas frequented by pedestrians, is key. The odds of a pedestrian surviving a crash with a car traveling 20 mph or slower are good; at higher speeds, the impact can be fatal.”

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