Walking is On the Rise. Unfortunately, So Are Pedestrian Fatalities

Walking is on the rise across the U.S., and that’s a great thing. The troubling news? Pedestrian fatalities are also up, according to an disturbing new report released by the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) earlier this week.

In its annual report on the subject, the highway safety group is projecting an 11% increase for 2016 in the number of people killed after being hit by cars while walking in the U.S. compared with the previous year. That translates to an estimated 5,997 people killed while moving on foot through the public rights of way. While traffic fatalities in general are on the rise, pedestrian fatalities outpaced the overall figure. Total traffic fatalities rose by 6 percent during the same time frame.

“Pedestrians now account for the largest proportion of traffic fatalities recorded in the past 25 years,” according to the GHSA report, which was based on preliminary data for the first six months of 2016. The figure reflects the largest annual increase in the number and percentage of pedestrian fatalities in the 40 years that national statistics have been recorded, GHSA noted. The second largest came in 2015. Thirty-four states experienced increases in pedestrian fatalities.

The findings are another reminder of the need to prioritize vulnerable road users, especially at a time when the future of federal funding for active transportation is uncertain.

“Walking is the most basic, healthiest, cheapest form of transportation and the one available to the most people, without regard to such variables as economic situation, age, or visual ability,” said America Walks Executive Director Kate Kraft. “We’re thrilled that so many more Americans are discovering the joys and benefits of walking each year, but statistics like these are reminders that we need to do a better job of keeping people safe on our streets.”

GHSA notes that there are a variety of factors that contribute to pedestrian fatalities, including changing economic conditions, fuel prices, which remain low, and the rapid growth in mobile devices that contribute to distracted driving and walking.

So what can we all do to make our streets safer? Here are four ideas:

  1. Take political action! Tell Congress to fund active transportation. Urge your city policy makers to encourage more walking through promotional campaigns, education on safety and traffic laws, and investment in infrastructure and other policies that facilitate safe and enjoyable movement outside of automobiles.
  2. Encourage your state’s lawmakers to adopt stricter rules regarding the use of mobile devices and other causes distracted driving. Need some help making the case? The most recent GHSA report details the pedestrian fatality problem by state.
  3. Lace up your shoes and walk, wherever you are! The more people out walking the streets, the more important their needs become to community leaders and everyday citizens alike, the more appealing walking becomes, and the safer streets become for everyone.
  4. Be a safe user of our roads and streets! Obey traffic rules. Put down your phone, whether you’re on four wheels or two feet. If you’re driving: Stop at crosswalks. Don’t speed. Pay close attention to the road and those walking on sidewalks nearby.