GOSHEN — The number of pedestrian deaths on U.S. roads last year was reportedly the highest in nearly 30 years, with Indiana falling somewhere in the middle in terms of overall fatalities, according to a recent safety organization study.
Using state-reported data, the Governors Highway Safety Association in its study, "Pedestrian Traffic Fatalities by State: 2018 Preliminary Data", estimated that 6,227 pedestrians were killed in 2018. That’s an increase of 4 percent from 2017 and 35 percent from 2008.
“The projected number of 6,227 pedestrian fatalities in 2018 represents a continuation of an increasing trend in pedestrian deaths going back to 2009, and would be the largest annual number of pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. since 1990,” the study said.
As for what may be behind the significant increase in pedestrian fatalities, association officials say more people are walking to work these days and they’re more distracted by smartphones as they do it. The study also pointed to the massive up-tick in the number of SUVs and light trucks on U.S. roadways in recent years as causing more deaths, given that taller SUVs tend to hit pedestrians in the head and upper torso, causing more severe injuries.
The report noted that in about half of the pedestrian fatalities reported, either the driver or the pedestrian was impaired by alcohol. It also noted that most deaths happened on local roads at night and away from intersections. Night pedestrian fatalities increased by 45 percent from 2008 to 2017, while daytime deaths rose a much smaller 11 percent, the report stated.
FATALITIES BY STATE
According to the report, pedestrian fatality numbers in 2018 differed widely by state, with estimated numbers for the first half of 2018 ranging from one fatality in New Hampshire to 432 in California.
The report noted that five states — Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia and Texas — accounted for almost half, or 46 percent, of all pedestrian deaths reported during the first half of 2018, with Arizona reporting 125 deaths, California 432 deaths, Florida 330 deaths, Georgia 133 deaths and Texas 298 deaths. By comparison, the report noted that those five states represent approximately 33 percent of the total U.S. population, according to the 2018 U.S. Census.
The report also listed an additional two states — New York and North Carolina — as having more than 100 pedestrian deaths during the first half of 2018, with New York reporting 117 deaths and North Carolina 102 deaths.
SOME GOOD NEWS
Despite the significant increase in pedestrian deaths reported, there is some good news to be gleaned from the 2018 preliminary data.
As an example, pedestrian fatalities during the first half of 2018 declined in 23 states compared with the same period in 2017, the report stated.
In addition, a total of six states reported double-digit declines in both the number and percent change in pedestrian fatalities from the same period in 2017, with Indiana being one of the six states to report such a decline. Also included in that list were Alabama, Michigan, Nevada, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
According to the report, Indiana saw a total of 42 pedestrian fatalities in the first half of 2018, down 31 percent from the 61 pedestrian fatalities reported during the same time period in 2017.
According to Julia King, a Goshen City Council member and longtime advocate for increasing pedestrian safety within the Maple City, there are multiple reasons to support walkability in a community, including: public safety, general health, as well as the broader economic benefit for a city given that property values tend to be higher where walkability scores are higher.
“There’s also a basic justice component of walkability,” King added of the issue. “When we focus all our transportation infrastructure on moving motorized vehicles as quickly as possible from point ‘A’ to point ‘B’, we increase barriers for anyone who doesn’t own or operate a car. That includes young people who don’t yet drive, older people who may no longer drive, anyone with a disability that makes driving impossible, and lower income residents who can’t afford a car.”
King noted that per Indiana law, pedestrians in a crosswalk have the legal right of way, though encountering drivers who understand that law seems to be more the exception than the norm for city walkers today.
“Cars are supposed to stop if your foot is in the crosswalk. In my experience, that doesn’t happen very often in Goshen,” King said. “When you visit a truly pedestrian-focused community, you immediately feel the difference. Cars actually slow down and stop when they see people approaching a crosswalk. You can see bright neon signs that say things like ‘State law – Yield to Pedestrians in a Crosswalk.’ That’s one of my favorite signs, by the way. I would love to see some of those around Goshen.”
While the city has invested significantly in bike paths in recent years, King noted that investment in increasing walkability seems to be lagging behind, and warrants a closer look.
“Goshen has invested a lot in bike paths, which is great. We need to put equal thought into pedestrians,” King said. “We need to remember that bikebility is different from walkability.”
Leon Bauman, school counselor for Chandler Elementary School, added his own perspective on the local pedestrian safety issue while serving crossing guard duty at the intersection of Eighth and Madison streets as school let out Thursday afternoon.
“If there’s anything I would ask of drivers, it’s that they be more respectful of crosswalks and when somebody is in a crosswalk,” Bauman said of the issue while leading a gaggle of students across Madison Street. “I will say, though, at least at this intersection, I’ve never seen anybody come into the crosswalk when there’s somebody out in it. In general, though, I think a lot of people don’t realize that pedestrians have the right of way, and we need to kind of figure out how to get that knowledge drilled home.”